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South Carolina Blues Embrace Telemedicine

Jacqueline Fellows, for HealthLeaders Media, September 24, 2013

Physicians and nurse practitioners will conduct tele-consultations for high-risk pregnancies, strokes, and mental health, with an emphasis on rural areas and small towns.

BlueCross Blue Shield of South Carolina and BlueChoice HealthPlan of South Carolina will use telemedicine to increase access to some specialty services for its members in rural areas.

In mid-August, the insurer announced it will cover consultations for high-risk pregnancies, strokes, and mental health. An unspecified number of specialty providers within each network will be available for telemedicine consultations to any traditional network provider in the state.

"Our intent is to improve access for our members in rural areas and small towns to specialty care and mental health providers, who tend to be in the state's metropolitan areas," said Laura Long, MD, chief medical officer and vice president for BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. "We also expect this to increase cost efficiency, reduce transportation barriers, improve quality of care and communication among providers and our members, and in some cases to save lives."

Telemedicine consultations for stroke, commonly referred to as telestroke, have grown to be a covered service. Many states' Medicaid programs, including South Carolina's, already cover telestroke care. "It's a pretty common starting point," says Gary Capistrant, senior director of public policy for the American Telemedicine Association. "Stroke diagnosis is a very common covered situation. High-risk pregnancies are not as common, but are increasingly being looked at."

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