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As more people stay home, virtual medicine expands in response to the coronavirus

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Lucy Pemoni
/
The Associated Press (file)

Virtual medicine is becoming more common as the state responds to the new coronavirus. It can help limit exposure for both patients and providers and ease some strain on hospitals and clinics.

In Washington, Medicaid and most commercial insurers will cover visits via video chat similarly to regular visits, says Dr. John Scott, chair of the Washington State Telehealth Collaborative.

Scott also directs digital health at University of Washington Medicine. There is some training providers need to help their patients virtually, but it differs from system to system.

“We have a process at UW Medicine where all clinicians need to be privileged to do telemedicine,” Scott said. “That involves a 30-minute online training, and on that online training it goes over things like etiquette.”

For example, providers should show their badges so patients can confirm who they are. The provider and patient also should talk about whether there are other people in the room.

During the outbreak, Scott says virtual visits can help screen patients for COVID-19 symptoms and determine whether they need testing or further care. They also can help people with other issues avoid hospitals and clinics. To help conserve protective gear, hospitals may even use video chats within the hospital for COVID-19 patients.

Telehealth already was growing steadily in Washington, but the new coronavirus is speeding things up.

“We’re dramatically shifting how we do work,” Scott said. “Just like everyone else is working from homes and doing meetings, we’re trying to do the same in healthcare.”

At UW Medicine, Scott says some 250 providers were trained to do telemedicine before the outbreak hit. There are now more than 750.

The Trump administration announced Tuesday that Medicare would expand its coverage of telehealth in response to the new coronavirus. 

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