Dr. Wilbert Rodriguez is a physician at Sanitas Medical Center in Riverview.

Telehealth has had numerous benefits during the pandemic by increasing access to care, reducing disease exposure for staff and patients, conserving scarce supplies of personal protective equipment and reducing patient demand on facilities. Telehealth policy changes might continue to support increased care access during and after the pandemic.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen an exponential increase in the use of telehealth services from our members,” said David Pizzo, Florida Blue’s market president. “For example, from January to March 2020, we had approximately 1,500 claims filed for telehealth services. Compare that to March to July 2020, when we had approximately 600,000 telehealth claims filed. Telehealth has played an instrumental role in providing medical access to our members when there were no other available options.”

In February 2020, the CDC issued guidance advising persons and healthcare providers in areas affected by the coronavirus pandemic to adopt social distancing practices, specifically recommending that healthcare facilities and providers offer clinical services through virtual means such as telehealth.

During the first quarter of 2020, the number of telehealth visits increased by 50 percent compared to the same period in 2019, with a 154 percent increase in visits noted in data from week 13 in 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.

During January to March 2020, most encounters were from patients seeking care for conditions other than COVID-19. However, the proportion of COVID-19-related encounters significantly increased from 5.5 percent to 16.2 percent during the last three weeks of March 2020 (www.cdc.gov).

“Virtual health is about more than just virtual provider visits,” Pizzo said. “Florida Blue has care teams who are able to intervene quickly when care is needed by deploying connected devices to our members that allow for real-time, remote patient monitoring. We’re also expanding a successful pilot program to support members with congestive heart failure by providing connected blood pressure cuffs, scales and glucometers.”

Dr. Wilbert Rodriguez is a physician at Sanitas Medical Center in Riverview.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, it was a bit challenging because some of our patients didn’t have access to the technology they needed to do telehealth,” Dr. Rodriguez said. “This has definitely been improving, though, over the last few months with help from our providers. Patients are making great effort to get access to telehealth so they can see their physicians from their own home.”

Florida Blue is focused on increasing patient access to care while decreasing cost and driving efficiency across the healthcare system.

“Virtual health is a key component of how we’ll get there,” Pizzo said. “We had already planned to expand our existing virtual care options by January 2021, but when COVID-19 hit, we knew we needed to speed up the timeline.”

To learn more about the services offered by Florida Blue, visit www.floridablue.com. To learn more about Sanitas Medical Center, visit www.mysanitas.com.

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Libby is a writer for The Osprey Observer/The Christian Voice. She started as an intern in 2009 and upon finishing her internship, she was asked to stay on as a permanent writer for both papers. Libby lives in Brandon with her two rescue dogs, Olive and Bogey.