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News analysis: Health care providers embrace telemedicine

What if it's not COVID-19?


Peak Vista Community Health Centers offers health care on a sliding scale. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Peak Vista Community Health Centers offers health care on a sliding scale.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to climb, both worldwide and in the U.S. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director and member of the White House coronavirus task force, while predictions can be misleading and represent a moving target, the middle-of-the-road estimate is that between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans may die of COVID-19. Before this pandemic passes, it will tax nearly every aspect of the U.S. health care system.

It’s bad, and it’s scary. Anyone who says otherwise probably has a trunk full of snake oil to sell.

In the meantime, people have and will continue to have everyday health needs, from checkups for chronic conditions to emergencies, all unrelated to COVID-19. Getting that care safely and responsibly looks a little different these days.

Note: The information below doesn’t apply to people with COVID-19 symptoms. According to the World Health Organization, anyone experiencing fever, cough and difficulty breathing should self-isolate. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) says people with such symptoms should call their health care provider for further instructions.

The CDPHE also has advice for people who do have other health concerns: “We strongly encourage doctors to use telehealth, but in-person appointments have not been prohibited,” said a state health department official in an e-mail to the Indy.

Many insurers and health care providers have been increasing their telehealth resources — that’s medical advice and support handled over a phone call, a text chat or a video call. If that’s possible, it’s one less opportunity for potential exposure for patients and health care professionals. Some procedures deemed noncritical may be postponed to reduce risk to patients and staff, as well as to ensure health care providers can maintain adequate resources to respond as testing uncovers more cases of COVID-19.

Unfortunately those without health insurance face a major barrier to care. According to the Labor Department, nearly 10 million Americans filed for unemployment in the last two weeks of March, many of whom will lose their insurance — the Congressional Budget Office estimated 159 million Americans had employment-based insurance as of May 2019.

Though the Trump administration recently decided against reopening insurance enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, Colorado opened a COVID-19 enrollment period — ending April 30 — through its health insurance marketplace Connect for Health Colorado ( Based on income and household size, those buying insurance through the marketplace can receive two types of financial assistance — go to for information. But even with help, some Coloradoans may not be able to afford insurance.

Fortunately, there are more options in Colorado. CDPHE has assembled a directory of telehealth and nurse advice lines, including free services (see below). The Pikes Peak region also has health care facilities that work with uninsured patients, with providers specializing in care for the homeless, for children, patients in the Tri-Lakes area and more. Local nonprofit The Resource Exchange offers a list of providers on its website.
Peak Vista Community Health Centers — with 27 outpatient clinics in the Pikes Peak region and the east central part of the state — provides medical, dental, behavioral and pharmacy services for people of all ages, with accommodations for patients who lack transportation or who need care in languages other than English.

“We offer sliding scale [payment] for people who don’t have insurance,” says Pam McManus, Peak Vista’s president and CEO. “We can work with them to go through that process [of getting them on file as a new patient] on the telephone. In addition to offering the sliding scale, we help people work through the system to apply for Medicaid.”

McManus and Chief Strategy Officer Colette Martin say they’ve implemented a telecare program that allows patients to receive care from home. They feel it’s important for patients to call ahead for services rather than walk in, but McManus notes that they do offer care after work hours and on weekends, which is crucial for people who cannot take sick leave. She also says Peak Vista can offer “co-visits,” which allow patients to seek care for behavioral health in the same visit as a primary care visit.

A Peak Vista center can handle primary-care cases that might otherwise end up in emergency rooms, which may soon face growing — or overwhelming — need from COVID-19 patients with life-threatening complications.

“In the case of epidemic illness, primary care professionals offer a first line of defense ... that keeps people from flooding emergency rooms and hospital outpatient departments when they don’t need to be there,” explained David Blumenthal and Shanoor Seervai of American medical nonprofit The Commonwealth Fund in the Harvard Business Review. “When individuals who are unlikely to have COVID-19 crowd such facilities, they not only delay care for the truly ill but are much more likely to get infected themselves. And if they have the disease, but it is mild, they pose a risk to other patients and staff.”

Directory of health care providers in the state, including free services:

Directory of local help via The Resource Exchange:

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