Patients taking advantage of free telehealth visits amid pandemic


CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) ─ As the state works to stem the spread of the coronavirus, patients across the state are opting for virtual appointments, especially after Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order making them available to everyone.

The order applies to “all medically appropriate telehealth visits,” including primary and specialty care, as well as mental and behavioral health care. Virtual visits must be reimbursed at the same rate as an office visit. It applies to all health insurers operating in Rhode Island.

“Every health insurer is required to cover all medically appropriate telehealth visits of any kind with any specialist,” Raimondo said.

Raimondo said telemedicine allows those in quarantine to still be cared for by their physicians and also gives vulnerable patients the option to stay home. She said it applies even to “just a phone call,” as well as video conferencing such as FaceTime.

Nurse practitioner, Russ Dufresne, said many patients have been staying away from the Garden City Treatment Center where he works, afraid of being around sick people.

His fellow staffers are taking extra precautions as well to protect themselves while also treating sick patients.

“We’re always aware that we might be dealing with a coronavirus patient,” he said. “It gives us a really valuable tool to still be able to provide care to patients.”

Dufresne believes telehealth appointments alleviate some of the stress healthcare workers are under.

“We’re gonna be able to give good advice over the phone and give people good direction as to what they need to do,” Dufresne said.

Since telehealth appointments are new at the Garden City Treatment Center, patients are directed to call the facility’s main phone number for an appointment.

Moving forward, Dufresne said the center will experiment with using Skype, Facetime, or having patients send photos to healthcare providers to evaluate. But Dufresne said that telehealth isn’t always a substitute for an in-patient visit.

“People have to understand, if we recommend that they get examined, it’s important and we should examine them,” he said.

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