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Many Rely On Telemedicine During COVID-19. Can It Last In Broadband-Poor Vermont?

A doctor's hand reaches through a computer screen to put a stethoscope to a patient's heart at the other side of the telemedicine call.
With many health care organizations unable to see patients in person except for emergency situations, many patients and providers are having to rely on telemedecine. But in a state where internet access is spotty at best, that can be a problem for some.

The coronavirus has highlighted our growing reliance on our computers, IT systems and broadband to navigate life, work and school under very unusual circumstances. But it's also underscored the lack of high speed broadband throughout the state.

One way to see both the increasing reliance on computers, and Vermont's broadband disparities, is the use of telemedicine during the pandemic. VPR's senior political reporter Bob Kinzel shared his findings with Vermont Edition.

Using information from Blue Cross Blue Shield Vermont, Kinzel compared the claims for telemedicine services in the first four months of 2019 to the first four months of 2020. 

"We find an extraordinary increase in the use of telemedicine," he says, not only "many more patients turning to telemedicine" but also "many more health care providers turning to telemedicine."

In 2019, there were 955 members of BCBSVT who filed claims for telemedicine services. In 2020, it's almost 15,000 people.

There were about 1,500 claims for telemedicine services in the first four months of last year. This year, it's almost at 30,000.

A year ago, just over 200 providers offered telemedicine services through BCBSVT. That number is now up to over 2,100. 

The most popular teleheatlh services, records show, are psychiatry and other mental health services.

Listen to the full interview to hear more about how Vermonters are using telemedicine, the limits of broadband in some communities across the state and whether the shift to telemedicine could persist after the COVID-19 era.

Broadcast live on Thursday, April 30, 2020 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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