Virtual Care at Your Fingertips

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Virtual care—now more than ever—is leading the way in revolutionizing healthcare, bringing professional care to those unable to visit a doctor's office in person. Just because Mental Health Month is over doesn't mean your mental health should be moved to the back burner.

Elizabeth Courbier, MSW, LMSW, PMP, Clinical Manager of Behavioral Health at Priority Health, says people could receive virtual care for a variety of needs, including medical issues that are non-life-threatening such as allergies, sore throat, muscle pain, and behavioral health concerns, along with outpatient behavioral health services for mild to moderate behavioral health needs such as anxiety, depression, grief, or sadness.

"Increasing overall access to behavioral health services via virtual care and digital solutions has great potential to improve management of behavioral health disorders, increase engagement in treatment, reduce need for intensive services, promote integrated care in primary care office, and reduce stigma associated with seeking treatment," said Courbier, noting that in response to the pandemic, many physical and behavioral healthcare providers began to offer or expanded their virtual care.

"The zeitgeist is changing as a result of a global pandemic. Ideas and beliefs around virtual care and behavioral health are transforming as a result of this crisis. This healthcare emergency will generate new behavioral health needs, exacerbate existing needs, promote behavioral health awareness, and reduce stigma. In response, I anticipate increased access to care via virtual care options."

In the wake of COVID-19, data shows access to virtual care is especially needed.

"In a recent study by the American Psychiatric Association, more than one-third of Americans said coronavirus is having a serious impact on their mental health," said Courbier, who notes virtual care supports continued improvement of health outcomes and may actually lower an individual's overall cost of care. "Fear and anxiety related to COVID-19 is normal, but it's important to work through those issues and resolve that stress to be able to maintain a healthy mind and body."

Because self-care and coping skills are critical to mental health and wellbeing, Priority Health partnered with a digital health specialist, Livongo, to offer free access to myStrength, a mental wellness tool with resources specifically focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. The free virtual behavioral health resource, available for all members, includes 15 topic areas focused on dealing with the heightened stress, anxiety and emotional effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

There are plenty of reasons individuals might prefer virtual care, such as a reduction of the stigma associated with seeking treatment, possible prevention and reduction of the need for intensive services, reduction of cost barriers such as transportation and/or missed work, and increased convenience as individuals are able to access care from anywhere on their mobile device, which reduces travel time.

"During this COVID-19 pandemic, individuals are being encouraged to use virtual care rather than going to an in-office appointment to reduce the spread of the virus and allow people to stay home while still receiving care," said Courbier. "Many users love virtual care because it's quick, there's no wait time and it's convenient. You can simply use your computer, phone, or other device to chat, email, or video conference a licensed medical professional."

Courbier stresses that virtual care is available 24/7, 365 days a year and individuals don't need to wait days or weeks for an appointment—an option especially ideal for nights, weekends, or holidays when you can't get to your regular doctor's office.

"I would encourage individuals to check with their health insurance provider about behavioral health virtual care coverage as well as other behavioral health digital solutions that may be available," said Courbier. "Priority Health provides all members access to 24/7, confidential, over-the-phone behavioral health assistance so they can find out what their plan covers and how to find providers who can help. The number—800-673-8043—is printed on the back of every member card.

"We're proud to partner with Spectrum Health to offer members behavioral health virtual care through the Spectrum Health Now app to treat anxiety, depression, grief, stress and sadness in a more convenient way."

To learn more about Priority Health's virtual options, click here. To find up-to-date information on COVID-19 and telehealth, visit the COVID-19 Provider Information Center.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.


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