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Community Health Clinics Move To Telehealth During Coronavirus Outbreak

Dennis Baik at a community clinic in Koreatown where he gets his cholesterol medication. (Photo by Alyssa Jeong Perry)
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Public health officials are urging doctors to take visits over the phone or videoconference, known as telehealth, in an effort to slow the transmission of the novel coronavirus.

But for federally qualified health centers (FQHC) who serve a lot of low-income patients, it’s traditionally been difficult to get reimbursed by Medi-Cal for telehealth. Now that may be changing.


Some clinics in Los Angeles, like St. John’s Wellness Center in South L.A., have scrambled to start telehealth — even if they don't get reimbursed.

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St. John’s started a week and a half ago implementing telehealth, mostly reaching their patients through the messaging service WhatsApp. Since then, St. John’s CEO Jim Mangia said they have done about 4,000 visits through telehealth.

“We are able to screen patients, we are able to triage them based on their risk," Mangia said. "We can assess whether they need to come in for a visit.”

But it’s not cheap to do visits this way. Mangia estimates they've spent $80,000 in just the week and a half.


This week, Governor Gavin Newsom and health officials asked the federal government to lift the tough restrictions on billing for telehealth for federally qualified health centers.

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Now, California is waiting for approval from the federal government.


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