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The Telemedicine Solution

As the number of coronavirus cases grows, policymakers and patients alike are eager to bypass avoidable trips to medical clinics and the ER.  Enter telemedicine.

By leveraging communications technologies to provide medical services, telemedicine can keep non-COVID-19 patients out of harm’s way while still allowing them to receive the care they need.  Through email, videoconferencing, video chat services and phone calls, patients can receive treatment remotely. They can get guidance from medical professionals. And they can fill prescriptions without leaving home.

Telemedicine has value for many patients, but is especially promising for people living with migraine or headache disorders.  Migraine attacks account for about 1.2 million emergency room visits each year, according to the American Migraine Foundation.  

While there’s never a convenient time to have a migraine attack, the COVID-19 pandemic makes the situation particularly complicated.  Many women, who are disproportionately impacted by migraine and headache disorders, are now providing care or facilitating remote education for children who are home due to school closures.  Women may also carry the responsibility of caring for other family members who are sick. 

In short, it’s an especially tough time to have trouble accessing migraine treatments, and forgoing care is a bad option.  If migraine patients with severe symptoms are forced to go to the emergency room, they risk virus exposure. They may also require hospital beds and staff care needed for critical COVID-19 patients.

But telehealth can help migraine patients manage their condition without exposing them to other health risks or straining crowded emergency rooms.  In particular, it can provide the “face-to-face” visit that is typically required before a clinician can refill preventive medications used to ward off migraine attacks.

Given the clear benefits, the Trump administration is urging patients to use telehealth services.  The regulatory flexibility granted under the president’s coronavirus emergency declaration has enabled the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to broaden access so that patients can receive a wider range of services from their caregivers without having to travel to a health care facility.  According to the Wall Street Journal, about 80% of U.S. hospitals now offer some sort of telehealth service.  

Some insurers are doing their part to ease access.  Blue Cross Blue Shield, for example, announced that it would waive patients’ cost sharing for telehealth services for the next 90 days.  By improving migraine patients’ access to telemedicine and, in turn, to their prescribed medications, policies like this one will not only improve patient health but also enable medical professionals to better deal with the serious threat that the coronavirus poses to the nation.

The COVID-19 outbreak reminds policymakers and patients of an important fact.  When a visit to doctor’s office is difficult to schedule, hard to get to, and maybe even dangerous, telehealth is an important alternative.