The COVID-19 pandemic has forced health plans to take the resources they have and adapt them to fit the needs of a global health crisis.
Cheryl Pegus, M.D., chief medical officer and president of consumer health solutions at Cambia Health Solutions, said in a fireside chat hosted by FierceHealthcare that for her company that included ensuring telehealth access and promoting mail-order prescriptions.
“I think it really speaks to how do we take technology that exists, utilize it during a time period of a pandemic and think about what that means for how we provide care?” Pegus said.
That has also meant, she said, tackling challenging health disparities that have long existed but are exacerbated further by the pandemic. Addressing those disparities was a key focus at Cambia before COVID-19 and has continued to be critical as the virus continues to spread.
Pegus said that targeting these challenges begins with having a wealth of data to pinpoint needs at a community and individual level. That includes data on where members live as well as information on their race and ethnic background.
“You need all of that context to be able to come up with solutions regionally and then see best practices that you can nationalize,” Pegus said.
Telehealth has proven a key tool for addressing these needs both in the context of COVID-19 and beyond, she said. In some of the more remote regions that Cambia serves—the plan operates in Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Utah—for example, there may be limited access to preventive care.
Traveling a significant distance to reach a primary care provider can require taking a day off of work for patients in such areas, which may not be feasible for their socioeconomic needs. Instead, telehealth makes it possible for that member to seek care when it meets their schedule.
“They can still take care of their family and show up to work on Monday,” Pegus said.
Telehealth use is also increasing substantially under the pandemic. Pegus said that Cambia saw about 10,000 telehealth visits among its members by midyear 2019, but this year to date has seen about 400,000.
And the feedback across demographics—including seniors, who are expected to likely reject such digital options—has been extremely positive.
“We’re seeing all demographics utilize telehealth,” she said. “We have feedback from our members on how much they love their telehealth visits.”
Pegus echoed other industry experts in saying she believes the embrace of telehealth is a trend that’s likely to continue beyond the pandemic. The first piece will be navigating the long list of regulatory changes made due to COVID-19 to make it easier to access telehealth and deciding which should stick long-term.
“Telehealth as always been a benefit,” she said. “I think physicians now know that their patients want to use telehealth.”