Two Grand Rapids care providers have rolled out new initiatives that further expand telehealth offerings.
Backed with an $834,000 federal grant, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services will use telehealth systems to provide assessment and individual and group therapy for substance abuse and concurring conditions to clients in rural, underserved areas of the northern Lower Peninsula.
Using therapists at its Traverse City clinic, Pine Rest aims to serve 300 people over three years in Benzie, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Manistee counties through a videoconferencing platform.
Those clients otherwise have no access or limited access to a therapist because of the travel involved and a shortage of clinicians, said Pine Rest CEO Mark Eastburg. Pine Rest is working with local organizations to create hubs for clients who lack internet service.
“There are only a few providers in this area, and in rural communities, the stigma of accessing substance abuse treatment is often a barrier,” Eastburg said. “Our hope is to also raise awareness about the disorder and its solutions.”
The telehealth service is supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Under the grant, Pine Rest became part of a national initiative on the use of telehealth technology in behavioral health.
In Grand Rapids, Answer Health — a new umbrella organization for independent physicians in the region — last week launched Answer Health on Demand, a telehealth service for patients who need to access a doctor for common medical conditions. The service is available via computer, tablet or smartphone for $45 per virtual visit, a cost covered by health insurers Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Priority Health.
Answer Health formed the telehealth service as a joint venture with Emergency Care Specialists P.C. in Grand Rapids. The service offers primary and urgent care, behavioral health, specialty care such as orthopedics and pediatrics, and wellness programming.
“We created our telemedicine service to give community members access to high quality care and direction, along with improved convenience and affordability,” said John Deveau, medical director at Emergency Care Specialists and Answer Health on Demand.
Care providers are increasingly turning to telehealth as a low-cost, convenient option to offer patients who need to see a doctor for minor conditions when an office visit isn’t available or is inconvenient.
Via a telemedicine product from Boston-based American Well, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan offers the service to employers with fully insured and PPO policies and to members of its HMO subsidiary, Blue Care Network. It’s also an option for self-funded employers.
A year ago, Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health launched its MedNow telemedicine service that connects patients with a Spectrum doctor for online video visits. The system is aimed at patients with minor or low-acuity medical conditions such as a cold, the flu or a rash.
Telehealth ranked as one of the top 10 emerging issues in health care in an annual report issued last December by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“Smartphones, connected medical accessories and apps have been underutilized by the health care industry. In 2016, care will begin to shift into the palms of consumers’ hands, helping to drive down costs, increase access and fulfill the public’s desire for ‘anywhere, anytime’ monitoring, diagnosis and treatment,” according to the PWC report, which urged health systems to “re-examine long-term capital investments in light of virtual medicine.”