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Doctors say Telehealth needs to remain an option after COVID-19 pandemic is over

Published: Jan. 8, 2021 at 9:26 AM MST
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — Telehealth is giving many people living in rural areas of the Magic Valley a much needed option when it comes to getting medical attention, and that includes mental health.

What started as a backup plan to protect doctors and patients from getting COVID-19, has now become vital for people living in rural communities.

“It’s absolutely crucial in rural states like Idaho to have this tool to use, and be able to have rural folks have the same access to care as their counterparts in urban places,” said Mary Barinaga, who is a family medicine specialist.

While Telehealth has been around for many years, it was rare for patients and doctors to be using it since insurance companies didn’t reimburse users for it. COVID-19 has changed that.

“When COVID happened, part of the CARES act was that Medicare and Medicaid would pay for Telehealth visits, so typically the commercial payers would follow suit as well,” said Frank Batcha, who is a family medicine specialist.

“People realized the utility of telemedicine particularly in forms of visits that don’t require physically touching a patient, so you don’t have to listen to their heart or lungs,” said Batcha.

According to the most recent data from the Department of Health and Welfare, Idaho has the 5th highest rate of suicide in the United States. The stigma surrounding mental health, easy access to firearms, and a lack of mental health resources are all factors contributing to that data.

“If somebody needs to travel 30 or more minutes to go see a doctor, especially with bad roads, maybe they don’t have gas money, or even transportation, then that can allow a patient to continue their care with a physician,” said Barinaga.

Both Doctor Barinaga and Doctor Batcha say Telehealth needs to become an option for people long after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

“We have to be advocates for that to continue happening, so that this tool doesn’t get taken out of our tool box,” said Batcha.

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