Telemedicine surge amid coronavirus pandemic will change industry forever, doctor says

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In such uncertain and unprecedented times, telemedicine and telebehavioral health services are becoming a convenient resource as brick-and-mortar practices keep their doors closed.

One company called Doctor On Demand offers online urgent care and behavioral health services. Over the last four to six weeks, the company brought on hundreds of additional medical providers, psychiatrists and psychologists in an effort to offer 24/7 access to care across 50 states. The online practice aims to connect patients and health care providers in less than 10 minutes, on average.

“We’re seeing this demand right now but I think once the impact of this is fully realized, I think it’s going to result in the industry as a whole being changed forever,” Dr. Nikole Benders-Hadi told Fox News. Benders-Hadi is a board-certified psychiatrist and medical director of behavioral health at Doctor On Demand.

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She said while brick-and-mortar behavioral care facilities may take up to 25 days to connect with patients, online care can speed the process up to an “unprecedented” one to five days.

While the media document the urgency for adequate personal protective equipment, or PPE, Benders-Hadi feels she provides "emotional PPE" for frontline healthcare workers.

“We’ve been really excited with services expanding, being able to help eliminate some of the barriers of healthcare access and reach people that are really in need at this time,” she told Fox News. Doctor On Demand has seen an estimated 140 percent uptick in virtual care visits across the board. In particular, child mental health therapy has been in high demand.

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“We want to be able to talk honestly and openly with children about current events and what’s going on with coronavirus right now,” Benders-Hadi said. “That’s going to vary depending on the age and maturity level...children ultimately are looking for safety and want to know that they’re OK.”

Though governing bodies have established social distancing measures, the psychiatrist encourages connecting with others online through Facetime and Skype. She was heartwarmed to learn of virtual book clubs and support groups, too.

“Just being open and talking about how you’re feeling...to have loneliness or sadness or stress and to be validated and know that you’re not in this alone, can go a long way as well to help people cope,” Benders-Hadi said.

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Doctor On Demand -- which is accessible online and as an app --also announced a partnership this week with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to provide free services to about two million uninsured residents.

"During the COVID-19 emergency, Massachusetts has made unprecedented efforts to eliminate barriers to health care access, including expansive coverage of telehealth services," said Amanda Cassel Kraft, acting Medicaid director, according to a recent press release. "MassHealth is excited to announce this partnership with Doctor On Demand to provide medical support to our members and uninsured residents seeking guidance on COVID-19 symptoms or risk factors."