ROCHESTER, N.Y., Nov. 29, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Upstate New Yorkers will embrace telemedicine as an alternative to getting care for minor conditions next year and are expected to use that option more than 50,000 times by the year 2018, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield officials predicted today. Relying on national studies, local projections and preliminary results from a pilot program of its own employees' use of telemedicine, the health plan said a surge in the use of telemedicine is likely to begin in 2017 and grow rapidly every year through the remainder of this decade and beyond. "Ideal medical care is when a patient sees his or her physician face-to-face, and both know and trust each other, but in our rapidly changing and fast-paced world, some of those face-to-face visits can't always take place," said Martin Lustick, senior vice president and corporate medical officer for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. "Telemedicine is an alternative that is in place and will gain popularity across the country," Lustick said. "It allows people in rural areas to see specialists in urban settings. It serves the needs of patients who find it difficult to get out of work to see their doctor when they need to address a problem for themselves or their children. And, it's a speedy alternative to going to an urgent care center or even the hospital emergency room for minor medical conditions." Historical advances in clinical decision-making; the evolution of customer-friendly technology applications for smartphones, tablets and computers; and more people having high-deductible health policies are the most frequently cited reasons driving the trend. Remote medical care, known as telemedicine, is when the patient and the provider are in two different locations but linked by telephone or a secure two-way video connection. While telemedicine services are available to anyone with or without health insurance, easy-to- use platforms are being built into most health insurance offerings throughout upstate New York. Starting Jan. 1, 2017, MDLIVE will be the platform offered by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield to all privately-insured and Medicare Advantage members as their new enrollment or re-enrollment begins. "There's an old adage that you should be skeptical of a chef who doesn't taste his own cooking," Lustick said. "With that in mind, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield ran a pilot program that encouraged our employees to register themselves and family members with MDLIVE. The responses we received for getting this benefit and using it were overwhelmingly positive." A summary of the pilot experience is available at http://tinyurl.com/zt9lxl5 . Among registered employee users, about 8 percent made use of the telemedicine option. More than half said they would have gone to an urgent care center or the emergency room for a minor condition if the telemedicine option hadn't been available.