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Health

Telemedicine visits triple in 2 years for upstate Excellus BlueCross BlueShield

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Excellus BlueCross BlueShield
Telemedicine educational poster.

The use of telemedicine is taking off in upstate New York, at least for patients of one major health insurer.

Dr. LouAnne Giangreco, chief medical officer at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in upstate New York, said the numbers have been remarkable over the last two years.

“Back in 2016 in the health plan, we were seeing 5,000 visits a year,” Giangreco said. “It’s grown, it’s tripled to almost 15,000 visits in 2018.”

Giangreco said the top medical conditions called about include heart disease, hypertension, skin disorders and diabetes. She noted while three-quarters of the visits involved non-urgent health conditions, one of the fastest growing areas of telemedicine in central New York is in behavioral health, with calls about anxiety and depression topping the list.

“We do know there is opportunities to access mental health providers, so telemedicine offers up an opportunity to reach our community more and provide some needed services,” Giangreco said.     

Telemedicine can be accessed outside normal office hours from anywhere, for minor and non-life threatening conditions. She expects this growth to continue as more supporting technology is coming on board that will help medical professionals with these remote appointments.

"There’s new peripherals to make it easier from a distance, to look in people’s ears, or listen to their heartbeats, or listen to their lungs as well,” Giangreco said.

She said a survey shows a majority of patients who used telemedicine were able to avoid going to emergency rooms or urgent care centers.

Excellus estimates there were more than 150,000 telemedicine visits in 2018 in upstate New York.