Telemedicine use by Upstate New Yorkers explodes during pandemic

By James T. Mulder | jmulder@syracuse.com


Syracuse, N.Y. — The coronavirus pandemic has fueled an explosive surge in telemedicine visits by Upstate New Yorkers, many of them seeking mental health care, according to Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

The insurer estimates its members used telemedicine 2.6 million times in the first four months of this year. That’s up from 290,000 telemedicine visits for all of 2019, a nearly nine-fold increase. Excellus attributed the spike to the pandemic. An analysis of claims by Excellus shows more than one-third of the telemedicine visits were for mental health services. “We may look back on this crisis as the trigger event that forever changed the way health care services are delivered, and the level of acceptance and treatment of mental health disorders,” Dr. Sudha Bakshi, medical director of Excellus, said in a prepared statement.

Telemedicine is the treatment of patients over the phone or via two-way video connections like Skype, Zoom or Facetime. Private insurers, Medicare and Medicaid cover telemedicine. Excellus said psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, counselors, nurse practitioners and other behavioral health and mental health providers all can provide care and services via telemedicine. Excellus said the top five mental health conditions for which its members seek treatment using telehealth are anxiety, depression, substance-related disorders, bipolar disorder and alcohol-related disorders.

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