Technology has been a game changer in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Doctors are using it to stay in touch with patients, resorting to appointments that involve Facetime and Skype instead of face-to-face appointments.
It’s called telemedicine and it’s growing in popularity in this time of uncertainty.
The method allows patients to avoid having to go out and doctors are still able to work with their patients without putting themselves at risk either.
“While it was not in wide-use in our community before the pandemic, it is becoming an important tool now. Both social distancing and continuity of care are important, especially for people with certain conditions, and telehealth can often be a solution to meet both needs,” said Magen Norwood, a spokesperson with the Santa Rosa Medical Group.
Dr. Joel Rudman, who is with Holley Navarre Medical Clinic, said seeking out a telemedicine option is better than not looking into medical care at all but added it’s not a substitute for having the patient in front of you when it comes to certain conditions such as a kidney infection.
“But there are some cases where telemedicine may be appropriate,” Rudman said. “We are sensitive to people’s needs. If there is someone who, in our opinion, is high risk to bring into the office, we will work with them.”
Rudman said he’s used video conferencing to discuss test results with patients and has even run strep tests from the parking lot.
“You learn to get creative,” Rudman said. “And if we are forced to, we will continue to evaluate other methods because the restrictions change every day. We try to be flexible depending on the situation.”
Santa Rosa Medical Group employs flexibility as well in determining how to provide treatment.
“Some appointments require a physical examination in order for the doctor to meet the standard of care and make fully informed decisions,” Norwood said. “Physicians make that determination according to patient need.”
Rudman said at his practice, anyone that might have COVID-19 is not allowed into the building and is referred immediately for testing. Even those with the flu or other minor illnesses such as a sinus infection are asked to text from the car and wait until their exam room is ready. They are then brought in through a separate entrance.
“It’s almost like running two totally separate clinics in one building with rooms away from our other patients,” Rudman said. “I even have separate equipment for each side.”
Rudman points out one of the biggest challenges during this pandemic is remaining calm despite the misinformation and fear that exists.
“You would think there would be a ton of people with flu symptoms beating down the door, but there’s not,” Rudman said. “People are either afraid of going to the doctor or scared of being shamed about leaving the house. Either way, we try to offset it by keeping the waiting room free of ill patients and keeping separate sides of the building for sick and healthy patients.”
Rudman adds there is nothing wrong with going outside, rather it’s being in large groups, traveling out of the area or not washing your hands that can lead to contracting COVID-19.
“I’m safer in my waiting room than I am at the grocery store because everyone in my waiting room has been screened,” Rudman said. “Don’t be afraid to visit us.”
Even after the pandemic has passed, telehealth is poised to remain prevalent.
“We have implemented a number of advancements to provide convenient access to our providers, such as same-day appointments for primary care, walk-in care and online scheduling,” Norwood said. “Telemedicine is yet another added layer of convenience we are now able to offer.”
Rudman plans to adapt as needed and isn’t hesitant to use telemedicine more going forward. What isn’t changing, however, is what people should be doing to stay safe during the pandemic.
“Predictions change. Numbers Change. Our basic recommendations do not change,” Rudman said. “Do not travel outside your region. Wash your hands frequently and do not congregate in groups or with strangers. But most of all, do not panic.”