Rebound Idaho: Telehealth plays big role in helping Idahoans manage pressure of the pandemic

Medicare is now covering virtual doctor visits.
Posted at 9:00 PM, May 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-11 17:28:53-04

IDAHO — Effects of the pandemic can be difficult on a person’s health, even if they don’t have the coronavirus. It’s a lot to deal with.

But with new territory comes new practices, and now, telehealth is being used on a broader scale to limit exposure, free up space in the hospitals and regulate Americans’ mental health, including here in Idaho.

"Even people who aren’t chronically having problems with mental health, they’re in fear of taking pay cuts, losing their jobs, having to file for unemployment — things that many many people never even thought of,” said Dr. Tom Sullivan, DrFirst Chief Privacy Officer and Chief Strategic Officer.

Telehealth isn't perfect; internet accessibility can be a problem for some people, especially in rural parts of Idaho. But it’s certainly better than nothing, and may even hold unique benefits -- especially in these uncertain times.

According to an American Psychiatric Association poll from March, nearly half of Americans were anxious about possibly contracting the coronavirus, and 62% were anxious about a loved one falling ill.

Plus: “What we’ve seen recently is a significant increase in the prescription of anti-anxiety medications," said Dr. Sullivan.

But during this pandemic, telehealth is playing a major role in maintaining patient oversight while 'flattening the curve.'

The practice existed pre-coronavirus, but it was somewhat limited to mostly rural areas. That is not the case anymore.

“Patients no longer want to go to their emergency room for other kinds of problems. They don’t want to necessarily go to their doctor’s office because they’re afraid they’ll be in a waiting room with a bunch of sick people," said Dr. Sullivan.

The Trump administration recently changed its policy in response to COVID-19, so that Medicare patients may temporarily visit doctors and clinicians via video conference at no additional cost — effective for the more than 320,000 Idaho residents currently enrolled in Medicare.

“This is a real benefit for seniors, and all the beneficiaries," said Dr. Sullivan.

Dr. Sullivan hopes this coverage remains.

“We may find, in the future, that this isn’t called 'telehealth' any more — it’s just one of the aspects of healthcare," said Dr. Sullivan.

He added, "It’s like an accidental evolution. It’s sort of like a natural experiment that we weren’t looking for, that we weren’t entirely prepared for. But okay, we’re gonna learn from this, and we’ll come out better on the other end."

For more stories and tips on how to manage the pressure during this time, visit our Rebound: Idaho webpage and select the "Managing the Pressure" tab.