CDPHP expands telemedicine program for Medicaid patients

Move follows successful test rollout in Rensselaer County

ALBANY — CDPHP’s Medicaid patients across the Capital Region will be able to access healthcare on their smartphones through a telemedicine app that the insurer said showed promising results in a Rensselaer County pilot program.

The ER Anywhere program started with a collaboration by Rensselaer County Executive Steven McLaughlin and CDPHP, which insures about half of that county’s Medicaid population.

Already facing high Medicaid costs, hospitals can be stretched thin when emergency rooms are overloaded with patients who don’t need immediate care. Also of concern: A hospital emergency department is one of the most expensive health care settings for the patient and/or insurer.

“If they call 911 and say they have a toothache, the rules were you had to send an ambulance, and if the patient wanted to go to the hospital, you had to go to the hospital,” said CDPHP spokeswoman Ali Skinner. 

Starting in October, CDPHP let Rensselaer Medicaid patients talk to care providers from United Concierge Medicine through an app or a toll free telephone number. United Concierge’s doctors helped to diagnose and treat patients without them needing to go to an emergency room. 

The app has about 150 downloads so far, according to Skinner.

Insurers like telemedicine because in many circumstances it can provide care comparable to an office visit for much less money. But despite the promise of speed and convenience, convincing patients that they can get quality care over a phone continues to be a challenge for telehealth initiatives — there’s a resistance to trying it that first time. 

“We’re still in the process of working through that; I think that’s still a barrier,” said Skinner. “Once people try it, they see that it’s the same exact thing as having a medical professional in front of you.”

Skinner stressed that the doctors on the virtual health care app can send ambulances to patients who do need immediate care in a medical setting. 

“We had more than 80 consults, and 97 percent of them didn’t need to go to the emergency room,” she said.

United Concierge Medicine is now working with Rensselaer County 911 operators to take calls from CDPHP Medicare members who don’t need an ambulance.

“When it’s determined to be the lowest acuity, the 911 operator can transfer a call to our virtual ER,” said United Concierge Medicine CEO Keith Algozzine. “An emergency physician can talk to the patient, determine if they need an ambulance, or if this is something we can treat at home, or if they can transfer to an alternate location other than the ER.”

Algozzine said that although the ER Anywhere program currently serves only CDPHP Medicaid members, the company hopes to expand it. 

“We’re going to be working with the counties to bring on more populations. But somebody has to start, and CDPHP was the one to do it.”

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