When Dr. Jonathan Kaufmann’s son needed an ophthalmology appointment, the family did not drive more than an hour to Nemours Eye Clinic in Wilmington.
Rather, the exam was done virtually in the parking lot of his son’s school. What could have been a four-hour excursion, Dr. Kaufmann said, took just 15 minutes.
“I was shocked,” he said. “It was awesome.”
It was the doctor’s first experience with virtual medicine in his personal life. But as Bayhealth’s vice president and chief medical information officer, Dr. Kaufmann has witnessed plenty of the benefits of telehealth professionally.
Bayhealth recently launched its own 24/7 virtual urgent-care service called Bayhealth@Home. Dr. Kaufmann said that, based on positive feedback, the health care system offered an extended campaign to give one free virtual urgent visit per user in early March. That deal allowed patients to save the $64 fee.
The service can be found here or via the Bayhealth@Home mobile app, enabling patients to receive care whenever and wherever they need it.
“I think people have come to expect that they can do almost anything from their mobile phone,” Dr. Kaufmann said. “And seeing a qualified, board-certified physician in a convenient manner is no different from an expectation standpoint. Traditional health care delivery is not super-convenient sometimes, when you really think about it. You have to take a day off of work or take your kid out of school. So access is our No. 1 thing.”
Telehealth was already growing for several years but took on greater importance at the start of the pandemic, said Beebe Healthcare chief administrative officer Stephen Keiser.
In the early stages of the pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services was coming out with new telemedicine guidance almost day by day, Mr. Keiser said.
On March 6, 2020, CMS began paying clinicians to provide telehealth services for beneficiaries nationwide, per an order by the Trump administration. A week later, on March 13, President Donald Trump announced an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act and the National Emergencies Act, which expanded Medicare’s telehealth benefits.
Mr. Keiser said that, once CMS allowed the expansion of virtual visits, Beebe had in place all the technology and training needed to provide it by mid-April 2020.
“There’s no question in my mind that patients would benefit from care that way,” he said. “If a patient is trying to get an appointment, and they say they’re having transportation issues, they can’t get (out of) their driveway, then we can offer and say, ‘Let’s set up a telemedicine appointment with you with your primary care or with your walk-in provider.’ So far, that has been really popular when needed.”
Beebe’s telemedicine program offers all provider-based visits, which include seeing a physician or an advance practice provider. It also works within its primary care network, general medicine, internal medicine, family medicine and many specialists, as well.
If a virtual visit determines that the patient needs a higher level of care, Beebe can expedite a trip to one of its emergency room sites or provider offices across Sussex County.
“It’s really a great way to quickly get care and escalate care, if needed,” Mr. Keiser said.
At TidalHealth, its facilities have partnered with Zoom for its telehealth program, which can be accessed through a patient’s MyChart account. This allows patients to virtually connect with providers for routine care, follow-up appointments and sick visits.
TidalHealth patients should first call their office to see if a video visit is appropriate for their condition.
A MyChart account is required for those telehealth appointments and can be created here.
Patients must also complete an eCheck-in before their virtual visit, which can be done up to two days prior.
“There are countless ways to communicate electronically between patient and provider,” TidalHealth said in a release. “These visits can be done by video on a smartphone camera, laptop with camera, or personal computer with camera. There are even some visits that can be done simply over the telephone.”
Dr. Kaufmann said that, at Bayhealth, around 10%-20% of business has been virtual during the last year.
“We hope to keep that going because the patients love it,” he said.
Its new app, Bayhealth@Home, is via a partnership with American Well, which handled most of the technology behind it and also has 24/7 access to Delaware physicians. Patients do not need a referral to use the app, and average wait times are less than 10 minutes.
Dr. Kaufmann said the virtual option is also great for mental health services, like behavioral counseling, as well as for appointments not requiring physical examinations, such as six-month blood pressure checks and diabetes follow-ups.
It is also helpful for patients who are experiencing symptoms but are unsure what the right setting of care is.
“If you’re not sure whether you should wait or whether you need to run in somewhere, it’s a really cost-effective, convenient way to get qualified medical opinions,” he said. “I was joking with someone going to WebMD. You’re gonna wind up with some crazy diagnosis, just by the nature of the way those tools work. Talking to an actual physician has a lot of benefit, and then, you won’t have to wait six or eight hours in the emergency room just to get an opinion on something.”
The technology also suits families who want to be involved in the care of their older relatives, Dr. Kaufmann added. He said he has seen several individuals over age 90 use the virtual option with other family members taking part.
“Not only can Aunt Sue or Grandma join, but the daughter who lives in Kansas can join that virtual visit now,” he said. “It helps get everybody on the same page for care.”
The only equipment needed is a camera — a smartphone, iPad or computer will all work, said Beebe’s Mr. Keiser.
“This day and age, that’s such a common thing that people have,” he said. “So it’s really comfortable.”
He added that he’s anticipating even more growth from telemedicine.
“It cuts out a lot of the obstacles that sometimes are challenges to care,” he said. “I think the future is extremely bright with the role of technology and how we can continue to improve health care delivery for our community. There’s so many opportunities to meet people where they are because when it comes down to it, health care is most successful when our talented clinicians can meet the patient where they’re at and help them move forward.
“I think this just becomes another one of our tools and a way for the community to stay healthy. So along with face-to-face visits, with walk-in care, with primary care, we can manage the patient year-round.”