Published on September 14, 2022

A Look at MyMichigan’s Virtual Care Options During Telehealth Awareness Week

Telehealth Awareness Week™, recognized September 18 to 24, 2022, is a landmark event highlighting the central role that telehealth now plays in delivering health care. MyMichigan Health is celebrating this week with a look at how telehealth services have expanded in recent years and what’s on the horizon.

“MyMichigan has been investing in telehealth capabilities for several years, but the pandemic brought a heightened need and many new innovations,” said Steven W. Blodgett, M.B.A., C.P.M., C.T.C., C.H.A.M., A.C.T.T.P., virtual care manager, MyMichigan Health, who shared that since 2016, MyMichigan Health has completed 310,255 visits and saved patients 11,777,212 miles of travel.

“When it comes to telehealth, one challenge all health systems are facing right now is a nationwide staffing shortage, and especially a shortage of highly specialized physicians. Telehealth can help alleviate those shortages by bringing patients and providers together without the need for travel. Patients can see our own MyMichigan Health experts from any hospital bed or provider’s office in our health system, and we also partner with providers at other hospitals in Michigan and throughout the nation to ensure patients get the specialized expertise they need.” Blodgett continued, “A second challenge we face is the lack of broadband internet access in the rural communities we serve. Many patients don’t have the bandwidth or technology to connect with one of our specialized providers, so we have made it a top priority to create telehubs in our rural facilities to bring care closer to home.”

MyMichigan Health currently has telehubs in Alpena, Bay City, Houghton Lake, St. Ignace and West Branch, with future sites in the works. Featured medical specialties include infectious disease, psychiatry, neurology, nutrition, oncology, dermatology, endocrinology, pulmonology and rehab services, to name a few.

“We’ve recently upgraded all our telehealth equipment with new hardware, software and peripherals, including a camera with an otoscope and surface lens,” said Blodgett. “The new platform is easier for patients and providers to use, and the new peripherals offer providers more vitals that they can measure and clearer, higher-quality images for more accurate diagnosis. We also have the option, when appropriate, to include remote family members in the telehealth session so that they can participate in discussions and be better informed of the patient’s progress.”

Neurologist Molly McDermott, M.D., director of the Telestroke Program and Medical Director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Michigan Medicine shared, “The telemedicine carts allow the University of Michigan providers to see MyMichigan patients in their local emergency rooms and to converse with them and their accompanying family members over video. The U-M providers can control the video camera in the MyMichigan ER from their own computers in Ann Arbor. Over video the U-M provider can perform a neurologic exam that helps them to make appropriate, timely recommendations to the local care team."

While many applications of telehealth use state-of-the-art equipment within MyMichigan Health’s facilities, equally exciting advances are taking place in the palm of a patient’s hand. “One of the most popular uses of telemedicine is to do a video visit from your home or office using your cell phone or mobile device,” said Blodgett. “MyMichigan is one of few health systems that offers the option to do a video visit with your own primary care provider, rather than a randomly-assigned ‘teledoc.’ Patients have expressed a strong preference for seeing their own provider, and this also keeps the documentation in the patient’s medical record for safer cross-checks and better collaboration within the care team. If the primary care provider orders tests or procedures, or refers the patient to another specialist in the health system, all of the related notes and results will be visible to the patient and their care team.”

What’s next in the telehealth world?

“Another impact of the pandemic is that our urgent cares and emergency departments have seen dramatic increases in volume for non-emergency conditions such as upper respiratory symptoms,” said Blodgett. “We launched a program called Virtual EZCare, which enables patients who have a MyMichigan portal account to see a provider for minor illness such as allergies, respiratory infections, urinary tract infections and rashes. This saves patients time and travel for conditions that can be evaluated without a physical exam. Our EZCare locations in Bay City and West Branch have successfully been offering this service to portal patients, and beginning October 4, we will open up scheduling for non-portal users as well.” 

For conditions that don’t require a video visit, MyMichigan also offers Symptom-Specific E-Visits through the MyMichigan portal account.

“Patients complete a simple questionnaire and upload a photo in their MyChart account. One of our EZCare providers then replies back with an evaluation and recommended treatment plan and if applicable, they can upload a prescription or make a referral to one of our other providers or facilities,” states Blodgett.

Those interested in more information on MyMichigan’s virtual care offerings may visit www.mymichigan.org/virtualcare.