Telehealth now is a mainstream method of receiving health care

Health care visits delivered via telehealth have grown nearly five times over the past four years in upstate New York as awareness of the option has expanded, according to an analysis of claims data by Univera Healthcare.

Remote medical care, known as telehealth or telemedicine, is when a patient and a provider are in two different locations but linked by telephone or a secure two-way video connection similar to that used by FaceTime or Skype. The video connection can be established using a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Many area medical practices now offer telehealth. In addition, national telehealth providers allow access to board-certified physicians and other medical professionals 24/7/365. The best advice on finding a telehealth provider is to first check with your primary care physician, and then with your health insurance provider.

According to a Univera Healthcare claims-based review of services delivered, health plan members made 5,137 telehealth visits in 2016. In 2019, that number jumped to 23,767 telehealth visits. “Extrapolating our experience to the state as a whole, we estimate that New Yorkers made more than 290,000 telehealth visits last year, said Richard Vienne, D.O., Univera Healthcare vice president and chief medical officer.

An estimated 60 percent of telehealth visits made by a sample of health plan members in 2019 were related to medical treatments, with the balance (40 percent) related to behavioral health services. Behavioral health includes treatment for mental health conditions and substance use disorders.

Top behavioral health conditions for which members sought telehealth treatment were anxiety; depression; and attention deficit, bipolar, alcohol-related and other mood disorders.

Behavioral health specialists seen by patients using telehealth include psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, counselors and nurse practitioners.

“Behavioral health patients are realizing that they can see a specific provider on an ongoing basis from the privacy of their home, where they feel comfortable and can call at their convenience,” said Vienne. Another factor in many parts of upstate New York may be the shortage of behavioral health professionals, especially those who specialize in treating children and adolescents. Telehealth can easily connect these patients with accessible behavioral health providers from whom they can receive ongoing care.

“The ideal situation for receiving medical care or behavioral health services is for a patient to establish a personal relationship with their health care provider,” said Vienne. “When it’s not possible to see your provider in person, telehealth is a valuable tool that enhances access to care for many people who may otherwise not be able to see a provider.”

For a Univera video about telehealth, visit