FILE - Virus Outbreak Telemedicine

In this Jan. 14, 2019 photo, a patient sits in the living room of her apartment in the Brooklyn borough of New York during a telemedicine video conference with Dr. Deborah Mulligan. Telemedicine often involves diagnosing and treating a new health problem but is also used to keep tabs on an existing, long-term condition.

(The Center Square) – The COVID-19 pandemic has brought fresh perspectives and additional interest in telemedicine, including in Illinois.

Telehealth is the distribution of health-related services through the phone or electronic device.

In April, the state of Illinois launched a program to provide telehealth services to COVID-19 patients that did not require hospitalization. Usage had increased since the pandemic began, and in a poll by the polling website Piplsay, 29 percent of respondents said the most important benefit of telemedicine is the elimination of close contact to avoid the spread of disease. Seventy-one percent of respondents said they had tried telehealth and were happy with the results.

Danny Chun, spokesman for the Illinois Hospital Association, said telehealth has been critical during the pandemic.

“It has been a key part of the response to COVID, because you need to have a safe, accessible and convenient way for people to still talk to their doctors and healthcare professionals without risking the spread of the virus,” he said.

Chun said telehealth should be credited with helping to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“To keep potential patients who would come to the hospital or doctor’s office from getting the virus and preventing them from spreading the virus if they have it to patients and health care workers in the hospital,” he said.

Many states expanded access and insurance coverage for telehealth. But with the gradual reopening of the economy, the state will have to decide whether to keep those changes intact. Three states, including Illinois, are working to establish permanent telehealth access and coverage post-pandemic.

Illinois’ House passed a bill in May which would have extended Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive order in March. The bill requires insurers to reimburse telehealth services at the rate equivalent to in-person visits.

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.