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Telehealth called a great tool, but access remains elusive for some

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Telehealth has been called a great tool for both behavioral and physical health, but it’s still got a ways to go before it can help everyone.

“There’s a lot of work that’s been done, a lot of work in progress, but there’s still so much we need to do,” said Dr. Mary-Margaret Wilson, chief medical officer with UnitedHealth Group insurance company, during a teleconference with the news media on Friday.

A large part of the population, though, lacks access to the internet and the technological means for telehealth. UnitedHealth says it’s working to bridge that gap.

“We actually view virtual care as a game changer that will serve as a gateway,” Wilson said.

Dr. Daniel Frank is chief medical officer with Optum Care, a group of 53,000 doctors and 1,450 clinics that provide services including telehealth. He said, “So, we recognize those challenges and engage these patients with chronic conditions or those who had missed recommended care and we offered them pre-data-loaded devices, in this case a tablet connected to a cellular service network.”

As with anything there is a lot of trial and error, and learning as you go, but making sure everyone has access to health care is front and center during the coronavirus pandemic.

Wilson at UnitedHealth said, “I think one of the things the pandemic highlighted was critical issues around access and sustainability, and so it’s heightened our efforts and focus.”

There are several ways of attempting to meet those needs, but it takes collaboration with local communities.

Catherine Anderson, the senior vice president of police and strategy with UnitedHealth Community & State, said, “We have to acknowledge that there is truly and infrastructure problem that is much broader than UnitedHealth Group, but we have shown through both the tablet example that Dr. Frank shared, and our partnerships where our partners are trying to figure out how to help in local communities while we are addressing a pretty significant infrastructure issue.”

According to the UnitedHealth Group, in 2021, it serviced 18 million people through telehealth from January to July.