With stay-at-home orders, physical distancing and other regulations born out of COVID-19, you may think that telemedicine is a relatively new concept created to address such extraordinary circumstances.
In actuality, telemedicine has been around for about 40 years.
A simple definition of telemedicine is the use of telecommunications equipment to allow health providers to enter a virtual “exam room” and see a patient for care, advice, monitoring or additional medical treatment.
Although telemedicine has been available in a limited capacity for years, it never really caught on in certain geographical settings until we started to see the severity of the coronavirus pandemic. Our family health office, our pain management center and our physical and occupational therapy practice have all implemented telemedicine.
GCR Therapy Group, the physical rehabilitation office, was the first in the area to offer telemedicine visits.
The benefits of telemedicine are simple but important.
First and foremost, it is incredibly convenient for the patient. All you have to do is be ready to connect at your assigned appointment time, and you can do so from your office or your home. Because of this, patients are limiting the risk of being exposed to potentially sick patients in the wait-ing room or even on the way to the appointment.
The number of visits has exploded in the past few months.
According to a recent Politico article, “Since COVID-19 emerged, telehealth visits for Medicare seniors soared from a few thousand per week to just over 1.3 million. Virtual therapy sessions at a prominent telehealth company have more than doubled.
Providers said fewer low-income patients missed appointments at safety net clinics across the country – from rural New Mexico to urban parts of Maryland – since they could more easily video chat their doctor without having to arrange transportation or childcare.”
Now that state and national orders have relaxed some, we can’t stress enough that this is not the time to get complacent and believe that the virus is gone.
Telemedicine is a wonderful option to have available, and it has been highly successful.
However, some patients will need to come into the office to be evaluated depending on their circumstances.
Gonzaga Family Health provides medical care for infants through adults. The office plans to offer a hybrid of telemedicine and in-office appointments for the foreseeable future. For instance, healthy patients three years of age and younger in need of check-ups and immunizations are scheduled for in-office morning appointments. Afternoon times are reserved for sick patients who need to be examined in person.
The rest of our appointments will continue to be done through telemedicine.
Our patients have overwhelmingly told us that this is a service that they want to continue, and so that’s what we plan to do.