“Around April 2020, we began telehealth, which included telephone visits and online video visits,” says Ronald J. Pope, D.O., family physician and Vice President of Medical Services, Care Centers for Columbia Memorial Health. “We managed to roll out the platform to all specialists and primary care providers in less than three weeks. It was a pretty amazing endeavor.”
Columbia Memorial Health’s cardiologists and pulmonologists previously had conducted telehealth visits for residents in some local nursing homes who were unable to visit offices, but the pandemic roll-out was on a much larger scale, according to Dr. Pope, who adds, “It was a focused, Herculean effort between IT, the medical staff, and the administration.”
Telehealth has shown a bonus result: improved compliance in mental-health care. “Anxiety and depression have increased tremendously due to the pandemic,” Dr. Pope says. “Now, we can start a patient on medication in person, and the follow-up can be done virtually.” Video telehealth allows a provider to see the condition of a patient, discuss complications and side effects, and answer any questions directly.
“No-show rates have declined. We’re providing better mental health care overall because patients are attending their visits,” Dr. Pope says.
Telehealth offers providers flexibility in determining who needs to be seen, almost in a triage fashion. “When you have a patient who is sick with symptoms of COVID or another transmittable disease, there’s a reluctance to bring them into the office and expose well patients and staff," Dr. Pope says. "Virtual visits can help providers evaluate their patients and ask them to come in for an in-person visit at the end of the day, when fewer staff and patients are in the office. This method reduces the risk of well patients becoming sick, by separating the acute cases from others.”
Depending on what the patient’s condition is, telehealth may or may not be appropriate. Interested patients can contact their CMH provider and ask for a telehealth visit, which is available via CMH’s Rapid Care centers as well as primary care and specialist offices.