Telemedicine visits gain popularity during COVID-19 pandemic

Wael Mourad, Health Partnership Clinic's chief health officer, conducts a telemedicine visit with a patient.

The local healthcare industry is adapting to the many challenges brought on by COVID-19, including embracing telemedicine.

Rather than require patients to physically show up to a doctor’s office, telemedicine allows patients to visit with a physician via video chats or phone calls. Telemedicine isn’t a new phenomena, but the pandemic has increased its importance.

Wael Mourad, Health Partnership Clinic’s chief health officer, said patients are expecting telemedicine services to reduce exposure for themselves and their families.

“It’s a technology and a service that was always there, but now we have a very important reason to learn how to use it,” Mourad said. “What any healthcare organization has to do is to learn and train its staff on how to conduct [a telemedicine] visit.”

Overland Park resident Rachel McRae, who has had two telemedicine appointments, said that aside from technical glitches these appointments are just like being at the doctor’s office. For those who have an upcoming telemedicine appointment, or who are considering scheduling one, she suggests planning out what you want to ask your physician as it’s easier to get distracted when visiting from home.

In the time of COVID-19, McRae said telemedicine is a good alternative: People don’t have to leave the comforts of their own home, and it makes check-ups simpler, she said. There are downsides though, such as not being able to get lab testing done, but health care providers are still offering in-person appointments for those who want or need them.

Here’s how a couple of local providers are handling telemedicine.

Health Partnership Clinic sees patient satisfaction, uptake in rural appointments

The Health Partnership Clinic, with offices in Shawnee Mission, Olathe and Merriam, launched telemedicine appointments earlier this month. Mourad said HPC is learning as it goes how to improve telemedicine visits, and address technical issues associated with the service.

HPC is still figuring out a few details, such as how to incorporate telemedicine into its workflow and how long a telemedicine visit should last, Mourad said. Overall, patients are satisfied with telemedicine visits, which Mourad compares to a former common healthcare practice: house calls.

“This is almost like doing what we used to do 100 years ago, where doctors would do house calls so the patient could get care while they’re in their home,” Mourad said. “And if someone has COVID-19, they have to stay home.”

Mourad said someone with a smartphone is more likely to to use HPC’s telemedicine services, and HPC has seen a significant number of adult patients via telemedicine visits. Additionally, HPC’s rural clinics in Ottawa and Paola have the most booked telemedicine sessions, as the service appears to be promising for patients in rural areas with less access to healthcare.

Patients who need to see a physician for issues such as allergies, diabetes, beahavioral health needs or medication refills can do so via a telemedicine appointment. HPC put together an informative flier on what telemedicine is and what can be done via telemedicine, found here.

Telemedicine fills “care gap” for AdventHealth primary care physician

Brooke Varnum, a primary care physician at AdventHealth Medical Group Primary Care at Lenexa, has been conducting telemedicine visits for a few weeks, and said she’s had great experiences thus far. The benefit of telemedicine is that it’s helping ensure patients aren’t letting small health concerns turn into big ones due to COVID-19.

“We haven’t stopped taking care of patients because of the pandemic,” Varnum said. “[Telemedicine] addressed the gap that we would have had in care otherwise, in patients who don’t feel comfortable coming into the office right now because of the pandemic, but who still need our care.”

If telemedicine is a good fit for the reason a person needs to be seen, schedulers call patients to see if they’re willing to opt for a virtual appointment, and if they are, schedulers help set the patient up with Zoom, the video platform being used by AdventHealth.

AdventHealth at Lenexa is conducting in-person appointments for half the week and telemedicine appointments the other half, so physicians aren’t going back and forth, she said.

Although a majority of patients have been middle-aged or younger, Varnum said those who decline telemedicine appointments tend to do so not because of age, but because they’re more comfortable with in-person appointments. Additionally, Varnum said the telemedicine appointments aren’t too different from regular, in-person visits, as physicians are able to look at patient charts and medications.

“For all intents and purposes, it’s as much of a normal visit as we can make it,” Varnum said. “It’s also something we want to encourage, so that we don’t ignore these health issues now and regular check-ups now.”

Patients are being billed for telemedicine appointments the same way in which they are billed for regular visits. Those interested in telemedicine visits can follow the general instructions below:

  • Contact your primary care physician to determine whether or not telemedicine visits are an option.
  • If the service is available, ask about how to access the appointment and what platform you will be using (which will be HIPPA-compliant). Telemedicine appointments can be done via video chat or via phone call, so a video camera may not be required.
  • Double check what reminders are available prior to your visit, for instance, AdventHealth sends out a reminder to patients 15 minutes before the start of the appointment.