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Telehealth use increased during pandemic, may be here to stay

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 9:56 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - When the COVID-19 pandemic sent people inside, medical appointments made the transition to a virtual environment. For the University of Virginia Medical Center, the transition was an easy one.

“We have a very long history of providing telemedicine services to citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Director for UVA Center of Telehealth Karen Rheuban said.

The pandemic allowed UVA to expand their virtual services.

“Following the public health emergency we scaled ambulatory telemedicine for our own patients in primary care settings. Most of our work prior to that had been specialty telemedicine services,” Rheuban said.

Expanded services allowed for the Medical Center to reach more patients.

“We’re providing telemedicine very aggressively, and we are implementing systems that will enable us to do it even more proactively with systems that are user friendly for patients in low bandwidth environments,” Rheuban said.

The Charlottesville Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy also worked with online appointments.

“We were really comfortable with it, it was really easy, and we’ve had people seeing us from out of the area for quite a while,” Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Charlottesville Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Rob Young said.

Young says clients were upset at first, but quickly realized virtual appointments were good medicine.

“Telemedicine is pretty much the same thing is in-person. It feels a little bit different, sometimes it will glitch or freeze out and that’s a little irritating, but other than that it’s pretty much the same thing,” Young said.

Federal and state waivers allowed for doctors to serve patients across state lines during the pandemic, but as state of emergencies have lifted so have these waivers.

“Medicare would only enable us to see patients if they are located in a rural area, and at an eligible type of facility. When those waivers were put in place, we were able to then scale to ambulatory visits in the patient’s home,” Rheuban said.

Rheuban hopes that some the pandemic procedures will stick around.

“We’ve had tremendous advancements in the Commonwealth of Virginia following the public health emergency. We are hoping and doing our best to educate legislators to enable these waivers to be made permanent,” Rheuban said.

The state executive orders that allowed for out-of-state providers to practice across lines have expired. State providers must be licensed in Virginia in order to provide telemedicine to Virginia patients.

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