Rise seen in telehealth usage

Shown is Dr. Erica Wachtmeister on a telehealth call from the Carondelet Pavilion Health Center in Amsterdam. (Photo submitted)

GLOVERSVILLE—Although most primary care and urgent care offices remain open to essential patients, there has been an increase in the use of telehealth services and it has become the preferred method for providers to see patients to keep themselves, their staff and community members safe from the spread of COVID-19.

Brian Evans, vice president, information services and chief information officer at Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home, said there has been a 60 percent increase in the use of telehealth services.

“For certain conditions within our established patients population, we can leverage technology for providers to interact with patients through video and audio. Augmented through our electronic medical record, a telemedicine encounter allows us to continue care within our established patient population. We can leverage technology to come to the clinic,” Evans said. “As much of provider-patient interaction is talking, telemedicine reduces the risks associated with speech-borne virus in a confined space.”

Nathan Littauer’s telehealth services began in 2017, however, Heather Lopez, primary care director at St. Mary’s said prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, St. Mary’s was looking into telehealth.

Fast forward to the start of the outbreak in New York in mid-March, the hospital was able to launch telehealth services in just four days to every primary care center, pediatrics center and urgent care, and some specialty care centers.

“We saw the need to launch telehealth quickly,” Lopez said.

There are two different ways patients can use the telehealth services: by telephone visits or by video visits. By video, patients can visit with their provider face-to-face in a videochat platform, and telephone visits are done by phone.

Through electronic health records, health care providers can reach out to patients to schedule a telehealth visit. If the patient agrees, they are sent a link to connect with their provider.

A telehealth visit can be scheduled by calling St. Mary’s Urgent Care at (518) 309-0011. Visits can also be scheduled by calling a primary care provider.

Both Lopez and Evans said primary care and urgent care offices are still open, but access is very limited.

“Offices are open. We are leveraging the ability for patients to stay in their vehicles and use their telephones to communicate with office personnel when possible,” Evans said.

“We are still seeing patients in office,” Lopez said. “But that number is very limited.”

If any patients have an in-office visit they are required to go through a screening which includes a series of questions and temperature taken.

“This is to ensure we keep patients, staff and community members safe,” Lopez said. “We can’t be too cautious at this point.”

However, in-office visits are for essential patients only. Lopez said they were required by executive order to reschedule appointments. She said they have been calling all patients, whether they be essential or nonessential, to see how they would like to proceed.

An essential patient is someone who has chronic health issues and requires hands on care. Nonessential patients are those who only had annual check ups and don’t have any chronic health issues.

Evans said patients who had scheduled appointments are being converted to telehealth visits as deemed appropriate.

Lopez and Evans said the feedback from patients has been positive.

“Video encounters are taken at a pace that allows the patient and provider to communicate clearly, and the video dimension has proven a positive alternative given patient feedback,” Evans said.

“I’m overjoyed to hear patient feedback,” Lopez said.

She said it makes her “excited” to know that St. Mary’s can continue to provide services to the community.

“If they’re excited, I’m excited,” Lopez said.

Richard Hyde, director of marketing and communications at St. Mary’s, said it brings a lot of relief in knowing they can continue to provide services to patients.

“This is something extraordinary,” Lopez said. “Being able to provide for our community.”

Hyde and Lopez both said if anyone has any questions to reach out and call their health providers.

By Kerry Minor

Leave a Reply