By Rebecca Metcalf
After being quarantined for months, most people have at least heard of telehealth—the use of information and communication technology such as mobile devices or computers to remotely manage health care. Telehealth provides a flexible location for both clients and health care providers. Participants can transmit voice, data, images and information, rather than moving the client or health care professional. Types of services include health education, remote monitoring of vital signs, and remote doctor-patient consultations.
Derrick Miller, a clinical social worker in Grosse Pointe, Mich., started using telehealth services to have virtual therapy sessions the week before Michigan’s Gov. Whitmer issued the stay-at-home order.
“It made sense to offer telehealth. Many clients still needed support and consistency through this unprecedented crisis. It is great to have at times like this,” Miller said.
Indeed, telehealth has a plethora of benefits. The burden of travel is reduced. Patients may be able to see the doctor sooner than normal. They also have access to a larger variety of specialists that might not be available in their hometown. This especially helps those in rural areas. Telehealth is convenient for those with limited mobility, time or transportation. It supports self-management of one’s healthcare. Both Medicaid and Medicare cover telehealth.
Despite its many advantages, telehealth is not perfect. Miller explained, “To me, honestly, it’s the energy exchange. Face-to-face sessions are more personal and I am able to read the body language and the energy of the person better.”
Miller uses Zoom to communicate with his clients. The cloud-based video conferencing platform can be used for video conferencing meetings, audio conferencing, webinars, meeting recordings and live chat.
On a typical day, Miller said, he’s usually on the computer from around 10 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. Most of his patients are relieved that they still have a way to have a session, despite the pandemic. Many prefer telehealth, and some patients can’t wait to come back to the office.
Forced changes in health care delivery due to the pandemic just might end up being long-term or permanent reforms. Virtual visits save time and cut risks. Less people in-person means less-crowded waiting rooms. Telehealth also removes the bureaucratic barriers and stigma for those suffering from mental health issues.
According to a June 17, 2020 Forbes article titled “The Future of Healthcare III: How the Current Pandemic Could Ironically Advance Healthcare as an Industry,” up until very recently, our healthcare system would not reimburse providers for telehealth visits. Only certain services, such as routine telehealth or virtual visits in specific circumstances, were covered. The article explained that insurance companies were hesitant to back telehealth, because they believed it was a net liability that lacked evidence worthy of replacing traditional physical techniques. However, times are changing, and the healthcare system is changing with them.
“I think moving forward many insurance providers will be giving many health professionals the option to offer telehealth services. I will offer it to those who prefer that type of medium,” Miller said.
While telehealth makes it difficult for Miller to read the body language of his clients, it has allowed for a medium of communication in a global pandemic. Patients who have been suffering with anxiety and depression for years are not alone during this stressful time. While it may not be as powerful as an in-person visits, it has many benefits. This array of benefits is why I think telehealth is here to stay!
Derrick Miller, PLLC
17852 Maumee Ave.
Grosse Pointe, MI 48230