Telemedicine

How telehealth providers are helping Hurricane Harvey victims (Updated)

As tropical storm Harvey rages on, telehealth providers like MDLive, Doctor on Demand and Teladoc are doing what they can to aid victims.

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This post has been updated to include information on American Well and HealthTap.

Tropical storm Harvey has been devastating the Gulf Coast since hitting Texas late last week. It made landfall again — this time in Louisiana — early on the morning of August 30.

Officials in Texas have reported at least 30 confirmed and suspected flood-related deaths, according to The New York Times.

As the slow-moving hurricane continues to wreak havoc on the area, health systems have been doing what they can to aid victims. Still, 23 hospitals in the Houston region alone have evacuated their sickest patients, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Other healthcare organizations have been lending a hand from farther away. These entities? Telehealth providers.

Until September 8, Sunrise, Florida-based MDLive is providing free telehealth consultations to those affected by the tropical storm.

Doctor on Demand is offering something similar. Through September 8, the San Francisco telehealth company will offer its services to those in the impacted regions at no cost. Patients simply enter the code “HARVEY2017” into the app or website to redeem a visit with a physician, who can treat everything from back pain and colds to anxiety and grief.

Boston-based American Well is offering free telehealth visits for psychological counseling and medical needs to victims through at least September 15, and Palo Alto, California-based HealthTap is giving affected individuals a week of online or mobile virtual consultations at no cost.

Purchase, New York-based Teladoc is providing free health visits to victims of Hurricane Harvey as well. The service is available to all affected individuals — not just Teladoc members.

“As hundreds of thousands of Americans are facing a time of need, Teladoc is working to make sure that they can count on readily available access to high-quality care, 24/7,” Teladoc CMO Lewis Levy noted in a statement. “Our call center reps and board certified and state-licensed physicians are standing by to help those families who have been displaced from their doctors and regular routines, but who still need non-emergency medical care.”

The fact that these companies are offering services to Texans is particularly notable given the history of telemedicine in the Lone Star State.

Earlier this summer, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1107, changing the face of telemedicine in the state. With his signature, physicians are now able to utilize telemedicine services with patients they haven’t met in person. This quashed an earlier requirement that physician-patient relationships had to be established with an in-person visit first.

And for Teladoc, it’s even more meaningful. The company was entwined in a lengthy legal battle with the Texas Medical Board regarding the scope of telemedicine in the state.

Though MDLive, Doctor on Demand and Teladoc are proffering free visits solely to Hurricane Harvey victims. But their decision can be seen as part of a larger debate over whether health plan members should be getting free telemedicine consultations.

Photo: Ian Hooton, Getty Images