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Telemedicine soars in wake of pandemic

For Immediate Release:  2020-04-13

Contact:  Jim Redmond, (585) 238-4579,

Excellus BCBS takes steps to make access easier and less expensive  

The number of health care visits delivered via telemedicine technology spiked in recent weeks as health care providers continue to “see” their patients while practicing physical distancing.

“When we chart our member usage of telemedicine, we see a steep, nearly vertical rise in the line graph,” said Marya Vande-Doyle, director of workplace wellness and telemedicine for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “It’s not an overstatement to say that patients and their providers have wholeheartedly embraced this method of care.”

Excellus BCBS members logged nearly 40,000 telemedicine visits between January 1 and April 3, or about 14,500 more visits than were made in all of last year. In 2019, the health plan had a total of 23,767 telemedicine visits. Extrapolating its member experience across the entire state population, Excellus BCBS estimates that New Yorkers used telehealth benefits 470,000 times in the first three months of 2020.

To encourage the use of telemedicine and eliminate roadblocks to getting care, Excellus BCBS expanded telehealth coverage to all members and waived any member cost-share responsibility for telemedicine services, regardless of the medical issue. 

A 24/7 Nurse Line also allows members to speak with specially trained registered nurses, day or night. 

“Physician interest in telemedicine exploded nearly overnight, and we were ready,” said Vande-Doyle. “Our provider relations team immediately hosted three webinars that were filled to capacity to train more than 500 health care providers in the use of telemedicine technology and proper claims submission for telemedicine visits.” Excellus BCBS increased its provider reimbursement for telehealth services to help replace some of the revenue they’ve lost due to the decline in in-office patient visits. 

Remote medical care, known as telemedicine, is when a patient and a provider communicate by audio, video or text messaging. 

An estimated 60 percent of telemedicine visits made by health plan members in the first quarter of 2020 were related to medical treatments, with the balance (40 percent) related to behavioral health services. Behavioral health specialists include psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, counselors and nurse practitioners.

“The ideal situation for receiving medical care or behavioral health services is when a patient can see their provider in person,” said Vande-Doyle. “With the need to practice physical distancing making that all but impossible at this time, patients and their providers are embracing telemedicine technology as never before.” 

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Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, is a nonprofit health plan with 1.5 million upstate New York members. The company's mission is to help people live healthier and more secure lives through access to high-quality, affordable health care. Its products and services include cost-saving prescription drug discounts, wellness tracking tools and access to telemedicine. With more than 3,500 employees, the company is committed to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce to foster innovation and better serve its members. It also encourages employees to engage in their communities by providing paid volunteer time off as one of many benefits. To learn more, visit

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