How California is using telehealth despite limited availability across the US

While California has recently rolled out initiatives to expand telehealth services during the coronavirus pandemic, many other areas of the country still have not made virtual care widely available, NBC Bay Area reports.

On March 18, California's health department mandated that all Medicaid plans must allow members to use telehealth at the same cost of in-person visits. Earlier this week, California's Emergency Medical Services Authority also moved to expedite the approval process for out-of-state physicians looking to practice telehealth in California, according to the report.

Despite California's efforts, electronic consultations with healthcare professionals are still not widely available to patients throughout the U.S., the network reports. Only 18 percent of physicians have access to video conferencing, and of those physicians, just 19 percent schedule video visits with patients each week, according to an American College of Physicians 2019 survey.

One potential reason for the delayed telehealth adoption is due to health plans not covering virtual appointments, said Ranjani Chandramouli, MD, medical director for Gardner Health Services, according to the report. Dr. Chandramouli oversees seven clinics in the California Bay Area that provide care to 35,000 patients. However, none of the health system's 35 physicians use telehealth.

"It is an expensive thing to set up," Dr. Chandramouli said. "And if you set it up and if you're not getting reimbursed for it, it's not going to be beneficial."

Some states and health insurers have recently begun waiving telehealth visit costs during the pandemic, including New Jersey, UnitedHealthcare and Blue Shield of California.

In the U.S., 55,243 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed as of 10:50 a.m. CDT, March 25. 

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