Telemedicine offers home visit-like experience for primary care patients

By Eunice Hoolihan, MD  |  6/19/2020

In March, as COVID 19 cases were more prevalent in our country and community, we started to decrease our exposure to other people. Eventually, on March 19, the stay-at-home order came through, changing the way we practice and seek medical care in our area. The pandemic has been a real booster for telemedicine, or Virtual Visits, in our area and the first encounter with it for many of us.

Telemedicine, or telehealth, allows your care professional to evaluate, diagnose and treat you remotely, using electronic devices, such as cellphones, tablets and laptops.

Even though this technology has been available since 1960, documented between NASA and the Nebraska Psychology Institute, it wasn’t until 2011 that Australian government introduced the telehealth initiative.  Further improvement of Internet access, software and hardware made telehealth more accessible. And, in 2016, a few large health systems began to roll out their programs.

Multiple platforms were developed, and while it has been offered at our medical practice since 2018, few patients took advantage of it, partially because they were unfamiliar with how our telehealth system worked and partially because some health insurances didn’t cover telemedicine the same way they covered in-person visits. Thankfully, most insurance plans now cover these virtual visits.

Yes, technology has presented a challenge for some of our patients. However, it has been a great experience to be able to take care of my patients through this venue. People seem more relaxed when they are at home. They usually wait less time and don’t have to travel anywhere. In addition, we can communicate with their caregivers and family members — and even get to know their pets. A telehealth visit is almost as good as a home visit.

Also, multiple specialists at Nuvance Health are using Virtual Visits, so patients feel closer to their care team.

Of course, telemedicine has limitations, but it will be with us for a lifetime and, with improvement in technology, we can expect Virtual Visits to accomplish more for our patients’ care and their well-being.

We are resuming in-person visits and implementing new COVID-19 safety measures, such spacing outpatient appointments and deep cleaning exam rooms. At the same time, we can continue to schedule wellness visits for patients via telemedicine for their convenience.

Wellness visits focus on helping patients avoid health problems. We look at recommendations for tests and services, review immunizations and come up with individualized care plans with education that targets their needs.

Despite the challenging times, I’m grateful my patients and I have gotten familiar with the use of telehealth for care deliver. In my case, I have gotten even closer to my patients.

Dr. Eunice Hoolihan is a family medicine doctor with Nuvance Health, who is bilingual in English and Spanish. She sees patients in Millbrook and now in LaGrange. To make an appointment, call (888) 525-HQMP (4767).