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COVID-19 helped usher in the widespread use of telehealth, and now an insurer is offering employers in the Little Rock area a virtual health care plan that touts a price tag about 15% lower than plans. traditional social benefits.
UnitedHealthcare of Minnetonka, Minnesota, announced the plan, called NavigateNow, last month. It allows members to have a personalized care team and access to 24/7 virtual care services that include behavioral health, emergency care and chronic disease management. The plan also says its members pay no co-payments for virtual and in-person primary care and behavioral health visits.
Little Rock is one of nine markets in which the insurer offers the plan.
One of the reasons for offering the product was “a shortage of primary care providers, especially in rural markets,” Chief Medical Officer of Population Health Dr. Donna O’Shea told Arkansas Business. for UnitedHealthcare.
She said that when a patient has a primary care physician attending to patient care, the health care costs are lower and the patient’s health improves. “We want to make sure everyone has access to a primary care provider and health services that are right for them as well,” said O’Shea.
During the pandemic, patients turned to their doctors via telehealth to meet their appointments as providers canceled in-person visits due to COVID restrictions. Patients are now comfortable with the arrangement, O’Shea said.
“This is particularly useful for people who suffer from chronic illnesses and who need to see their doctor frequently,” she said.
For people without a general practitioner, a virtual general practitioner will take care of the patient’s care and put him in contact with specialists. Primary care physicians will know where to send their patients for lab work, for example, “and all of that communication can take place on one platform,” O’Shea said.
NavigateNow policyholders will use the Optum Care virtual provider group of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, which has more than 50,000 providers and 1,600 locations across the country.
UntiedHealthcare predicts a “rapid increase” in the number of insureds for the product as patients continue to enjoy the convenience of telehealth services, she said. By the end of next year, it expects to be present in more than 25 markets.
The cost of NavigateNow will vary depending on several factors, including company size, industry, and expected claims, O’Shea said.
Yet not everyone has embraced telehealth. Telehealth “brings with it a set of safety concerns that you probably don’t have as many when receiving in-person treatment,” said Stephan Landsman, who, along with Michael J. Saks, recently wrote “Closing Death’s Door. : Legal Innovations to End the Epidemic of Damage to Healthcare. Saks is Regent Professor at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University.
Landsman spoke to Arkansas Business about telehealth in general, not the UnitedHealthcare product.
Landsman, a law professor at DePaul College of Law in Chicago, said that if he supports telehealth that provides increased access to health care at a lower price, “you are also going to have problems that need to be addressed.”
More than 400,000 Americans die each year from medical errors, which can include missed diagnoses, surgical instruments left inside a patient, or prescribing the wrong medicine.
Landsman said it was too early to know whether telemedicine would increase medical errors. Many people have been without adequate medical advice and care for so long that accessing health care through telehealth could improve their health, he said.
But if virtual providers don’t keep good records, check the consequences of the drugs they prescribe, or follow patients, “then you’ll see a real increase in that death rate,” he said. .
O’Shea of UnitedHealthcare said the requirements for documenting a telehealth visit are the same as if the patient was seen by a doctor in person. “It should be the same medical record,” she said.