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Pa. Payer Expands Telehealth Platform to Include Telemental Health

Capital BlueCross is adding telemental health to its three-year-old telehealth platform, offered in a partnership with American Well, after seeing an increase in virtual visits this year.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- A central Pennsylvania health plan is adding telemental health to its telehealth offerings, following a recent surge in virtual visits.

Capital BlueCross, which serves 21 counties in the Keystone State, is expanding its Virtual Care telehealth platform, launched in 2016 in a partnership with Boston-based American Well, to include specialty services. The first such service will be behavioral health.

“The ability to receive counseling from a place where a person feels most comfortable can make a tremendous difference," Dr. Jennifer Chambers, the Harrisburg-based health plan’s Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President of Medical Solutions, said in a press release. "Virtual Care has the ability to reach so many people who may otherwise not be able to visit a physician or counselor."

Last year, officials recorded roughly 1,500 visits to a platform offering on-demand, non-acute care; in the first five months of this year, they’ve already seen more than 2,000 visits.

“We are reaching a tipping point,” Chambers told digitalcommerce360.com. “Demand is up.”

The health plan is also expanding its Virtual Care mHealth app to enable members to search for providers, read reviews, schedule appointments and conduct virtual visits.

With large health systems like UPMC, Geisinger and Penn Medicine in the neighborhood, healthcare providers and health plans are looking for any advantage they can find to keep their patients and attract new ones. Expanding mobile health access to specialty care services fits that bill.

This past April, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts launched a new digital health plan targeted to meet member demands. The health plan’s Emerging Solutions platform offers covered services from three national recognized digital health companies.

"We've heard from many of our employer customers that they are looking for new ways to help their employees with specific challenges including diabetes, pre-diabetes and maternity," Debbie Williams, Senior Vice President of sales and account services, said in a press release. "Emerging Solutions can address these needs.”

The move to offer online counseling and psychiatric services also meets a national increase in demand for behavioral healthcare. Last year, the Advisory Board Company reported that direct-to-consumer care and behavioral health services are the two fastest-growing telehealth services.

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