Telehealth: Essential and Efficient in our COVID-19 World
By Allison Cook, MD
Lexington Women’s Health
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a lot about our practice. One of the biggest changes that we have made is the expansion of our telehealth program. We already dabbled in tele medicine but had only offered it to existing weight loss patients. After the COVID-19 virus we realized that telehealth was an essential and efficient way to continue patient care without having them come in the office and could be utilized so much more in our practice. Though we might have been a bit resistant in prior years, this service made it possible for us to do many prenatal and gynecology visits that we hadn’t really considered offering through telehealth before. We knew we had to limit patient exposure for the safety of our patients, our staff and ourselves so this was the best way.
We are not currently offering any preventative care. However, if a patient has a problem, more than likely we can help them through telehealth. This includes, pregnancy, contraception counseling or follow ups, PCOS, weight loss, infertility and more. We do try to schedule any prenatal patients via telehealth in the morning that way if the provider feels like the patient needs to come in the office for a physical exam, we can have them come in that same afternoon. Of course, we still have patients come into the office for their prenatal visits that require an examination or other testing. However, by doing telehealth visits as often as possible we have greatly reduced the threat of exposure in the office.
We are using doxy.me. The patient does not have to log in or sign up for any accounts or app. They simply click the link the provider sends to their cell phone and type in their name. If they do not have their camera or microphone activated, they may have to click to allow that. After they type in their name, they are placed in our virtual waiting room where the provider retrieves them and joins them on the call. It works like a FaceTime call. The patient can see you and you can see them. You can prescribe and send in medications as well as chart while you are on the visit with the patient by using a split screen.
One of the challenges we have had is learning to schedule our own patients. That way when you are finished with the visit you can schedule your patient for a return telehealth visit or an “in office” appointment if needed. We have found that our patients were not resistant to trying telehealth. This may be because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Most patients were relieved they could still receive care without leaving their homes. They were also impressed by the ease of the entire process.
Over-all telehealth has been a wonderful asset for our practice as well as our patients. Without this convenience we would not have been able to offer many of these women care during this pandemic. Also, it has made us realize that telehealth is relatively simple and we should probably be doing a lot more of it! When the threat of COVID -19 decreases I think we will still use tele medicine as often as possible. COVID-19 may have pushed us into using it more but I think it is here to stay!