Telehealth makes a strong impression during COVID-19 lockdowns
While the impact of Covid-19 on emergency rooms and hospitals across the country has been well documented, how are non-emergency medical practices faring through this pandemic?
It turns out that telehealth - which many practices were slow to embrace in the past - is emerging as a winning tool for numerous doctors unable to see their patients in person due to lockdowns and social distancing mandates.
Telehealth is having an extremely positive impact on Goshen Speech and Hearing Center in Goshen, N.Y., which has helped the practice maintain 90 percent of its speech therapy patients during the Coronavirus outbreak, according to Robin Seccafico, speech pathology supervisor.
“Overall, the speech therapy portion of the practice has grown 10 percent, believe it or not,” she said. Another positive is “our articulation therapy patients are actually demonstrating an increase in progress. Patients are able to see themselves and our providers closely on their computer screens, enabling them to identify correct tongue/lingual placement.”
The practice has also learned how to decrease cancelations and work more efficiently, and now also realizes “that telemedicine can be very effective for many types of patients,” Seccafino added. A big challenge, however, was training, learning, and doing tele-therapy simultaneously, she said. Other challenges include spotty internet connections that disrupted telehealth appointments, and losing 10 percent of patients who were either not interested in telemedicine or lacked the proper equipment and internet access telehealth requires.
For a practice in Oregon with 15 locations and more than 120 clinicians, the Covid-19 crisis forced them on the fly to review and document all their workflows in order to deliver successful telehealth to their patients. A nurse practitioner who works at the practice reported that telehealth adoption has dramatically changed the way they deliver care, noting that one Friday at the end of April the practice completed 310 telehealth visits. A big surprise, she added, is how open patients are to telehealth.
Despite having to cancel all of its surgeries due to Covid-19, Comprehensive Women's Healthcare in Texas did not experience a slow down in patient appointments until the last week in April, but already the schedule is filling back up and operating rooms are opening back up, according to Barbara Buckley, Nurse Practitioner. “We deliver babies and women are still coming for their appointments for wellness,” which you can’t do via telehealth, she said, adding that a big lesson for the future will be keeping more supplies on hand.
While numerous practices have not been as busy as normal these past two months, Dr. Nancy Tice, a psychiatrist in New York City, is working overtime helping people cope with the stress and isolation of Covid-19 and social distancing. “I have been set up for telemedicine for years and I am working from home,” she said, noting that she has no staff. “I am giving patients sheets of relaxation exercises and coping techniques and encouraging exercise.”
That is another realization that has come to light with telehealth — some practitioners can work successfully from home. “I will be working from home every Monday in the future doing telemedicine,” said Seccafico from Goshen Speech and Hearing Center. “We will be able to offer this service to our patients in the future who are seen for multiple visits. This will also be more flexible for our patients.”
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