Through Virtual Visits, Cheshire ensures patient access to care from the comfort of home
It’s no secret that COVID-19 has greatly impacted our hospitals. Health care systems across the country have been forced to rethink the way they do business, both in caring for people who have or think they might have the coronavirus and other patients who are trying to get in to safely see their doctors. But not all of the changes brought on by COVID-19 have been negative. In fact, there is at least one medical practice increasingly used to see and treat patients that will likely be a standard after the pandemic is over: Virtual Visits.
Prior to COVID-19, Cheshire Medical Center was already starting to interact with patients through video conferencing and online health information through the myD-H Patient Portal. But with the heightened emphasis on social distancing, limited travel and access to shared spaces, and the public’s general unease with leaving the safety of their homes, Cheshire has used Virtual Visits to provide the same quality care in less time to more patients—and not just for primary care appointments. Specialty medicines, from cardiology to endocrinology to pediatrics to the Walk-In Care Clinic have taken advantage of the convenience of telemedicine.
“Telehealth has taken off,” says Dr. Todd F. Dombrowski, MD, MS, CCD, FACP, FACR, rheumatologist at Cheshire Medical Center, a member of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health system. “Prior to COVID-19, we did not do any Virtual Visits in our department. But we’re trying to get patients in to be seen with a limited number of in-person visits. This way I can converse with them, read their medical record in real time, and the visit flows. I can give them the time and access they need. They have my undivided attention, and they don’t even have to come in.”
Dombrowski says that this is particularly helpful for patients who live far away from the clinic or hospital. He has patients from Nantucket to Maine to south of New York City (two hours away), who can now get a referral, consultation, diagnosis, and even a prescription from the comfort of their own living room.
“Speaking to the patient and seeing them on screen, you can get about 70 percent of what you need from their medical history and a virtual physical,” Dombrowski says. “You can assess a patient’s problem during the limited exam, enough to order further tests, medications, and determine whether they need an in-person follow-up.”
Screening patients to see if they require in-person care is a key benefit of Virtual Visits, saving time and resources for both the patients and the caregivers. It has even proven useful for the Cheshire Medical Center’s Walk-In Care Clinic. Whether patients were in the parking lot or at home, they could talk through their symptoms with the staff and determine if they needed to come in. At first, these conversations happened over the phone, but now the team uses video visits in the case of rashes, lacerations, or other things that might not require urgent hands-on attention at the clinic.
“If the nature of the visit doesn’t require an in-depth medical exam, you can get right to the point with a telemedicine visit,” says Dr. Michael O’Shea, VP and Medical Director of Ambulatory Care Services at Cheshire Medical Center. “And with the advances in technology, physicians are incorporating more and more things into the video visit. You can check a patient’s blood pressure and conduct other elements of the physical exam. There are technologies that allow providers to listen to a patient’s heart through the Virtual Visit. The field with continue to grow.”
And as the field of telemedicine grows, O’Shea says that it will enable Cheshire to continue to grow as a regional health care provider. “This is just one more way to provide care to a larger segment of the population. through telemedicine, we can reach out farther and help patients that aren’t in our immediate environments. This is one more tool that we can use to make that happen,” says Dr. O’Shea.
There are other advantages to Virtual Visits and telehealth than just saving time and screening patients. They include:
- Shortened wait times for booking appointments: Cheshire is dedicating specific appointment slots in some departments solely to Virtual Visits, which can be slotted closer together because there’s less downtime in between. Also, a majority of follow-up appointments with specialists can be done through Virtual Visits.
- Quicker referrals: Getting to the specialist is easier, because patients don’t have to wait as long to see the primary care physician and get the referral.
- Less time off work or away from home for patients: With no commute to and from the hospital or clinic, not to mention a shorter appointment, patients only have to be away from work for a few minutes instead of half a workday. In fact, office workers can complete the 25-minute Virtual Visit right at their desk.
- Everyone can be in communication, but without contact: Adult children who want to keep up with their parents’ health can patch in from anywhere in the world. Patients can also show a nurse or doctor their prescriptions to ensure everything is as ordered without having to gather and tote a bunch of pill bottles to and from the hospital.
- The myD-H Patient Portal keeps patients connected: This electronic platform gives patients easy access to scheduling, after-visit summaries, billing details, and test results, as well as doctor’s notes so there’s complete transparency. They can now also use the portal to log in to their Virtual Visit with the click of a button.
By embracing this technology, Cheshire Medical Center is not only helping patients get the care they need during this unprecedented pandemic, but it’s also paving the way for a more convenient and efficient future of healthcare.