Doctor using telehealth

Telehealth Comes to the Rescue in Florida and Texas

While hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and now Maria, have been ravaging Texas, Florida, Georgia, and the Caribbean, thousands of displaced residents have received remote medical care. Telemedicine providers Doctor on Demand, EpicMD, and LiveHealth Online, offered care to adults; and pediatric specialty clinic provider, Nemours, reached out to children in Florida with free remote consults. Additionally, nearly 3000 Floridians took advantage of Florida Hospital’s free telehealth outreach (depicted here in the Orlando Sentinel).

Unfortunately, it appears to take disasters like these recent hurricanes, to move Congress to action when it comes to reimbursing telehealth. According to HealthcareITNews, just this past week, the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously passed a bill that could make remote care a key part of Medicare Advantage plans. The bipartisan “Increasing Telehealth Access in Medicare” bill, would allow telehealth consultations to be a basic (non-supplemental) service for Medicare Advantage members.

Another silver lining that emerged from the recent disasters is Facebook Safety Check, which has become the go-to standard for tracking the impact of any emergency on family, friends, and neighbors. While not new (the service was introduced in 2014 and has been used for 600+ events since then), its importance hit new highs with the recent hurricanes. FB Safety Check allows users to tell friends if they’re “safe” – and, if not, what they need. Even better, it lets “earth angels” respond to those in need. Just last week, as Tropical Storm Irma hit Georgia, there were 58 posts on Safety Check requesting help, and 362 offering it. For example, Lynne Johnson, of Lake Park, GA, posted: “[I] have an ear to listen a shoulder to cry on and a family that will welcome you if anyone is in need. I have hot showers, bottles of water and a hot meal … and baby girl clothes size 0-3 months.”

Perhaps in their wakes, Harvey, Irma, and Maria will leave a legacy of better access to telehealth and a new way for people to share, as Abraham Lincoln would attest, “the better angels of our nature.”