Sonal Brizendine, M.D., a Marshall Family Practice physician, adjusts the screen of her laptop.
“Hi Tamara, how are you doing?” she asks, as she manipulates the angle of the laptop to better see her patient’s face.
“And how about those prescriptions, are you still taking those?” she asks, listing each off by name and dosage.
While the questions seem typical for a doctor during a routine office visit, this visit was anything but typical. This was one of Dr. Brizendine’s first “virtual visits,” made possible via telehealth, which brings patients and healthcare providers together through computers and telephones. The primary care clinics operated by Fitzgibbon Hospital all launched telemedicine services within the last week in its efforts to ensure access to healthcare during the pandemic.
Shortly after the first cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in a Kirkland, Wash., long-term care facility, health experts began exploring ways to reduce the risk of coronavirus exposure and slow the spread of the disease while still providing patient care. They concluded that isolating people away from those who had possibly been exposed was absolutely necessary. How, then, would patients get the medical advice they need without travelling to the doctor’s office, risking exposure of themselves, the doctor and the staff?
Video communications platforms like Skype, FaceTime and Zoom allow people to connect “virtually.” The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services - the governmental agency which regulates much of how healthcare providers operate in this country – recognized the value of these communication platforms and loosened the rules around their use to provide telemedicine services.
“Our ability to launch telehealth services was in direct response to community need during the pandemic and a lifting of onerous regulations which had hampered our organization’s ability to offer these services to our community,” said Angy Littrell, CEO of Fitzgibbon Hospital. “When looking at the many barriers to care in our area, like lack of transportation and an aging population, we know that offering telehealth will increase access to care. Patients can stay safely in their homes and can visit with their health care provider.”
As part of its electronic outreach to the community, Fitzgibbon Hospital has posted a form on its website for individuals who may have concerns about their exposure or risk for COVID-19. The web form is available on a clickable link “Think you might have COVID?” on the Fitzgibbon web page or at https://www.fitzgibbon.org/medical-services/covid-19-symptoms-assessment. This is designed for new patients who want to connect with a care provider. The form will be electronically sent to the clinic for triage, and individuals who provide a valid phone number should receive a call back within one business day. Care coordinators can offer a telephonic check-in or a video visit with a provider, depending on the individual’s phone and/or computer capabilities.