Sheltering at home during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant more people are turning to telemedicine for routine healthcare. In fact, the need for telemedicine appointments has grown faster than some platforms can handle. Telemedicine companies report usage is up 600% from before the health crisis, straining capacity and stretching wait times.
Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey’s (Horizon BCBSNJ) telemedicine platform wasn’t immune to the abrupt shift to virtual care. Some of its members needed care, but couldn’t or didn’t want to risk traveling to see their primary care doctors in person. When they turned to virtual care, many encountered long wait times. Horizon BCBSNJ knew there were many primary doctors within their network with the know-how and time to accommodate more patients. So the health plan pivoted quickly, turning to some primary practices that were seeing their in-office patient volume drop dramatically in the midst of COVID-19-related travel restrictions and social distancing requirements.
A solution to bring doctors online - fast
Horizon BCBSNJ’s David Gambino, Vice President, Transformation and Chief Pharmacy Officer, came up with a plan: “adapt the health plan’s existing technology, Chat-for-Care, and collaborate with primary doctors to implement it. They agreed to be trained on the tools, software, workflows and to staff the hours of operation needed to make our solution work,” says Gambino. Within a week, Horizon BCBSNJ delivered laptops and everything physicians needed to start seeing patients on this platform.
More doctors coming online everyday
As a result of Horizon BCBSNJ’s collaborative efforts, more than two dozen primary care doctors from have been trained and outfitted and more are being added every day. Working in shifts, they were able to quickly add about 130 more virtual appointments each day for eligible Horizon BCBSNJ members, which includes about 2.4 million members who are covered through all Commercial, Medicare Advantage and most self-insured plans.
Members can stay safely at home and log on to the Chat-for-Care tool through the Horizon BlueSM app. The health plan is also working to make the service available through its member website. Based on their symptoms, patients can be quickly and easily triaged and seen by a doctor on video who can diagnose, treat and prescribe.
Easing wait times for more New Jerseyans
Bringing more primary care physicians online has helped ease wait times for care across the board through Horizon BCBSNJ’s primary telemedicine platform, Horizon CareOnlineSM. That could be a lasting benefit for the health system after a crisis that’s tested all the limits.
Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, an association of independent, locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.