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New Mexico Health Plans Launch Phone-Based Telehealth Service

Two New Mexico health plans are launching a telehealth service for some 40,000 members that will allow them to call a number, be screened by a nurse and, if approved, connect with a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Some 40,000 New Mexico residents will soon have access to telehealth services through their phone.

Health plans True Health New Mexico and New Mexico Health Connections have announced a partnership with MDLive that will enable members to call a number posted on their back of their insurance cards to access healthcare. They’ll be screened by a nurse and, if approved, connected with a New Mexico-based doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.

“In medicine, if you can listen well and take a good history, you can get a good diagnosis most of the time,” Dr. Kiko Torres, True Health’s senior medical director, told the Albuquerque Journal. “In the case of strep throat, for example, if a patient has a sore throat but they also have significant respiratory-type systems, we know it’s probably not strep. If the case gets to be a little more complex, a patient can be referred to a (brick-and-mortar) clinic.”

Phone-based telehealth consults have been banned in several states, where officials say they fail to enable a proper doctor-patient relationship. But telehealth vendors like MDLive and Teladoc have been championing the platform as a means of delivering healthcare to those who might not otherwise have access.

The service is attractive to direct-to-consumer plans looking for a quick and easy path to medical care for non-acute conditions. And it’s especially helpful in rural and remote areas where access to audio-visual platforms is limited.

Healthcare providers are finding that direct-to-consumer non-urgent care services can be delivered in a variety of formats, including phone, video and asynchronous or store-and-forward platforms, in which the patient calls or logs in online, fills out a questionnaire and is contacted by a provider – by phone, e-mail or video visit – after that information is reviewed.

“We wanted convenience - not something cumbersome,” said George Williams, MD, President of the Methodist Medical Group and Senior Vice President of the Methodist Health System, which launched the Methodist NOW asynchronous telehealth service earlier this year at Methodist Family Health Centers in Texas.

“It’s not onerous,” said Williams. “The information we’re getting is very important, and it’s just what we need” to create a treatment plan.

Hospitals and health systems are launching these types of services to capture a market that typically goes to the doctor’s office, retail clinic or ER for non-urgent care, as well as those who forego care and put themselves at risk of more urgent health concerns later. The goal is to reduce unnecessary traffic in ERs and doctors’ offices, enabling providers to focus on patients who need in-person treatment.

In some states, payers have taken a more active approach to reducing unnecessary ER visits by refusing to reimburse those visits if a review finds that they weren’t for an emergency. In those instances, members are urged to use telehealth, visit a retail clinic or check in with one’s primary care doctor instead of going to the hospital.

In nearly all cases, providers say they’re adopting direct-to-consumer services to meet patient demand for easy and convenient access.

“Patients want this,” said Joseph Brennan, senior director of Michigan-based Spectrum Health’s MedNow telehealth service. “Patients see the convenience, the choice, the access to care on their own terms, and this is what they want. This is the future of healthcare.”

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