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Traditional care in a high tech setting

Mary Beth TeSelle
Special to The Union
Workspace. Doctor on the computer screen. 3d illustration
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

Among the many realities of everyday life that have changed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, is the nature of how we receive health care.

In an effort to avoid spreading the virus, many doctors’ offices have moved to providing care virtually as much as possible.

Also known as telemedicine, this type of remote care has quickly become the norm, at least for the time being, around the world. Forrester Research estimates that there could be as many as one billion virtual care interactions between physicians and patients by the end of the year.

In March alone, telemedicine visits increased 50 percent in the United States, according to research from Frost and Sullivan consultants

While telemedicine has been around for years, it has never before been widely used. Forrester Research points to three barriers: cost, availability, and relationships. If patients could see their provider face to face, they were more likely to seek care.

Now, a global pandemic has made telemedicine a welcome alternative.

Locally, Dr. Jill Fitzpatrick with Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Medical Group says her clinic is one of many now offering virtual care visits via a secure, licensed version of Zoom. The visits involve both the doctor and the patient using a smart phone, tablet or computer to see each other and talk to each other.

“For many of our patients who we have known for a long time, it gives us an opportunity to essentially do a home visit,” explains Dr. Fitzpatrick. “It’s so nice to get a bigger picture of who they are. As opposed to a telephone visit, video visit allows us as physicians to actually see our patients. This gives us so much more information about how that person appears to be doing and their general emotional and physical health.”

Virtual visits can be as long or as short as they need to be and both the patient and the doctor can be anywhere they like – as long as they have access to the Internet. Any notes from the visit will be document and added to the patient’s regular medical record, just like in-person appointments.

While virtual care is appropriate for many common illnesses and conditions. Dr. Fitzpatrick says it has been especially helpful for at-risk patients like the elderly or those with chronic conditions.

“Virtual care allows us to see vulnerable patients without having the risk of possible exposure to COVID-19,” she says. “We can do most types of visits other than those that clearly require a hands-on physical exam. Our goal is to keep people safe and only require an in-person visit when necessary. Often, we can use the virtual care to decide if someone truly needs to be seen.”

Of course, transitioning some appointments to virtual visits hasn’t been without its challenges.

“With anything new there are always technical challenges,” Dr. Fitzpatrick explains. “We are working closely with our staff to train them how to help patients through the process of setting things up. Internet issues in our county can sometimes create challenges as well.”

The upside, however, is the unexpected confidence boost some patients get when they master the new technology.

“For many of our patients it has given them more confidence that they can use this type of technology overall,” Dr. Fitzpatrick says. “They are able to apply to other parts of their life with family and friends.”

The technology has also been convenient for doctors, many of whom are also working remotely, allowing them to see patients, provide care plans and even prescribe medication, without leaving their home.

The response from patients has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Dr. Fitzpatrick. She says they recognize that virtual visits provide a convenient and safe alternative, one that she’s hoping may be available as an option long after the current pandemic is gone.

“We are discovering all of the benefits of telemedicine and could expand on that in the future,” she says.

For those patients who may be uncertain about this new way to receive care, Dr. Fitzpatrick offers encouragement.

“Stay open minded and don’t be afraid of it! We will help you and you are not the only one that doesn’t know what to do or how to do it. If you have a smart phone, tablet or computer we can help you!”


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