GENESEE COUNTY — McLaren Health Care has been awarded $626,328 in funding for expanded telehealth services from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) COVID-19 Telehealth Program. McLaren is one of 30 health care providers nationwide to be approved for this special allocation at this time.
This FCC program provides immediate support to eligible health care providers responding to the pandemic by fully funding their telehealth platform services and equipment necessary to provide critical connected care services. The funding allows for 12 of McLaren’s hospitals across Michigan to enhance telehealth connectivity between providers and patients statewide.
McLaren first launched its consumer-based telehealth service, McLarenNow, in March of 2019. Through McLarenNow, Michigan residents can virtually connect with a board-certified physician, 24/7, through their computer or smart phone. The service has expanded to include a clinic-to-clinic platform, facilitating virtual visits between McLaren patients and their own specialty and primary care providers.
Since mid-March, when COVID-19 cases in Michigan began to multiply, McLaren’s telehealth platform has grown exponentially. To meet a growing need, McLarenNow began providing COVID-19 screenings in addition to virtual visits for urgent care needs.
“We went from seeing 8 to 10 patients a day on our McLarenNow platform to seeing as many as 50 patients per day in April,” noted Cheryl Ellegood, Vice President of Service Lines at McLaren. “Our clinic-to-clinic telehealth consults went from 300 in March to 14,000 in April.”
This growth was also influenced by the CMS expansion of telehealth benefits, allowing physicians to provide virtual visits to their patients in their homes. CMS also removed the restriction of only paying for patient visits in designated rural locations. Once these measures were put in place to reduce the risk of COVID- 19 exposure, there was a huge demand for telehealth access from physicians on McLaren’s medical staffs. As a result, McLaren’s telehealth program onboarded 545 employed physicians and an additional 55 members of its ACO in April, with more slated in May.
It has been intense work, including getting the appropriate licensing, obtaining equipment, and then training providers on use of the platform, proper documentation and coding for reimbursement.
“The accelerated growth we have seen in our telehealth program from March 5 to May 1 is equivalent to the growth we were forecasting over a two-to-three-year period of time,” Ellegood emphasized. “We are very appreciative of receiving this FCC allocation, as it allows us to continue our telehealth outreach. This is a trend that will continue to gain traction. Physicians and patients have truly bought into telehealth as a means of accessing care.” — G.G.