KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Marking a seismic shift in medicine, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is fully embracing telehealth, announcing Thursday that from now it will cover online medical consultations with in-network health care providers.
The onset of the COVID-19 outbreak is the catalyst.
Since March, doctors -- along with educators, lawyers, journalists, elected officials, and other professionals -- have had to switch to the online world to conduct business.
Responding to the virus outbreak, BlueCross Blue Shield began covering video and phone visits for patients with providers such as primary care doctors and behavioral health providers. Over the weeks that expanded to include areas such as physical and speech therapy.
From March 16 to April 14, the insurer reported an 18-fold jump in claims for telehealth visits compared with the same time in 2019.
All of these services will now be covered on an ongoing basis, BlueCross said Thursday.
Doctors stress, however, that a telehealth chat has its limits. In-person visits will still be needed to conduct physical inspections -- to look at a person's skin, down their threat, and at other parts of one's body.
BlueCross BlueShield, based in Chattanooga, is the largest insurer in the state with health plans, products and wellness services for more than 3.5 million Tennesseans.
In a prepared statement, President and CEO J.D. Hickey said response during the pandemic has shown telehealth is a viable means of providing services "for preventive, routine and maintenance care, and we’re making this decision because the added convenience can bring better health.”
Knoxville area doctors told 10News anchor John Becker last month they were adjusting to and learning to appreciate the benefits of seeing patients by phone and computer video.
“I think this will revolutionize medicine in many ways,” said Dr. William Horton, an ear, nose, and throat specialist in the Knoxville area.
Telehealth won't address every patient's needs, doctors say.
"But a lot of what we do depends more on the patient’s history that it does on the examination, so in a lot of ways this (video chat) can replace the office visit,” Horton said.