We at Cureatr have long been advocates for adopting and expanding the use of telehealth and telemedicine, singing their praises for everything from how they improve the delivery of care in rural areas to specialties benefiting from the services. With the COVID-19 outbreak, much of the country is gaining a greater appreciation for the value of and need for telehealth and telemedicine. And thanks to changes in federal guidelines impacting telehealth, such as the telehealth waiver, HIPAA sanctions waiver, and state-specific telehealth actions, it is easier than ever for a wide range of organizations to begin offering telehealth services or expanding upon existing telehealth services
Here are six organizations working to leverage telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic to deliver virtual access to critical care services.
1. Bergen New Bridge Medical Center (Paramus, N.J.)
In early March, Bergen New Bridge Medical Center announced it was expanding its existing telehealth service (called "Bergen New Bridge Cares") to screen patients for COVID-19. In partnership with Air Visits, a platform that virtually connects patients to healthcare teams, the Bergen telehealth program offers urgent-care screening and assessment of patients by a licensed physician. The program also offers telehealth consultations with an infectious disease physician, if required.
In the program expansion announcement, Deborah Visconi, president and chief executive officer (CEO) at Bergen, stated, "With the rapidly evolving health crisis, we felt extending the reach of our services into the home was crucial in identifying patients and expediting care while also limiting community exposure. It is our hope that by putting our experts at the fingertips of the community, people's fears will be eased, and they will be more willing to seek early evaluation and treatment."
2. Wyoming Medical Center (Casper, Wyo.)
Wyoming Medical Center recently launched a telehealth program focused on helping patients who believe they may have a respiratory infection and COVID-19 symptoms, according to a Casper Star Tribune report. The program includes providers from at least one of the hospital's primary care clinics.
As the hospital's website notes, a new telehealth screening hotline went live March 23. Patients experiencing respiratory illness symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, sore throats, nasal, and chest congestion) are advised to call the hotline, where they will be triaged by a registered nurse. Following questioning, patients can arrange video telehealth appointments for treatment, further education, or referral to the hospital's physical respiratory symptom screening clinic or another level of care.
Andy Dunn, MD, the hospital's chief of staff and the physician running its COVID-19 clinic, told the Casper Star Tribune that the objective of the program it to help the hospital absorb the volume of patients reporting possible coronavirus symptoms. The hospital's on-site screening clinic saw nearly 300 patients in its first two days.
3. UofL Health (Louisville, Ky.)
UofL Health already had a telehealth program in place. On March 26, The Lane Report noted the organization was expanding the program to improve patient access with more than 600 providers. An expansion was already planned, with a launch date scheduled for later in the year, Wade Mitzel, chief operating officer of UofL Physicians, told the publication. But this expansion was fast-tracked to help patients maintain social distancing during the pandemic.
The program — "UofL Health – Telehealth" — is available for established and qualifying new patients. Patients who call the organization's primary care access line will be assessed to determine whether a telehealth or in-person visit would be appropriate. As the article notes, telehealth providers can conduct an initial assessment of symptoms related to COVID-19 as well as treat conditions such as colds and flu, sore throats, rashes, allergies, and bladder infections. Other services include the prescribing of medications and provision of home care options.
4. Lake Wellness Center (Lafayette, La.)
Lake Wellness Center is an outpatient addiction treatment center with locations throughout south Louisiana. Its patients suffering from opioid use disorder (OUD) typically meet in person for group therapy sessions. As the organization notes in a statement, "This treatment has proven to be one of the most effective tools in treating addiction." But once Louisiana announced mandates restricting the size of gatherings, such in-person sessions proved unfeasible.
To continue supporting patients, the organization launched a telehealth program, stating that it was the first Louisiana provider to deliver addiction treatment programs to existing and new OUD patients through the use of video technology.
The statement quotes Lake Wellness Center CEO Roy Viger as stating, "Due to [the] restrictions, our team had to quickly think outside the box because relapse is not an option for our patients. … We believe that, by working together, this method of communication will allow us to continue to provide safe and effective treatment to patients in need, particularly those with opioid addiction."
5. Head & Neck Pain Clinic (Plymouth, Minn.)
When Minnesota's governor ordered a two-week pause on all non-emergency medical procedures, including dental, the Head & Neck Pain Clinic's Plymouth location (one of four in the state) stopped seeing patients in person, reports Twin Cities Business. The specialty dental clinic quickly pivoted to telehealth.
In the article, a Q&A with Cory Herman, DDS, an orofacial pain specialist and co-owner, Dr. Herman discusses the practice's new telemedicine process that permits the provision of consultations for new and existing patients. He states, "… we're making all attempts to stay connected with our patients, to offer care when necessary and ensure that our pain patients aren't seeking care at the local emergency departments as they're already overwhelmed with COVID-19 related concerns."
6. University of Missouri School of Medicine (Columbia, Mo.)
Patients aren't the only people benefitting from telehealth services. Through the University of Missouri School of Medicine's Missouri Telehealth Network, Missouri healthcare providers receive current information and support through the Show-Me ECHO program, according to a news release. The weekly COVID-19 ECHO online video conference is intended to promote open communication and enhance awareness concerning COVID-19 case management.
In the release, Missouri Telehealth Network Senior Medical Director Karen Edison, MD, states, "It benefits patients throughout the state by providing access to the latest evidence and best practices for identifying and treating patients who present with symptoms of COVID-19 or who test positive for the virus. This Show-Me ECHO program will also benefit hospitals and clinics as they work to prepare for more such cases. Ongoing telementoring for clinicians in urban and rural Missouri will give us our best chance to work together to limit the spread of this virus and save lives."
Embracing Telehealth to Help Flatten the COVID-19 Curve
While these six organizations deserve praise for incorporating telehealth as part of the nationwide effort to flatten the curve of COVID-19, they are not alone. We've read stories about physical therapists, group practices, wound care specialty practices, paramedics, and many more embracing telehealth and telemedicine. When the pandemic is over, many providers and patients will have a greater appreciation for the role virtual services can — and, one can argue, should — play in the delivery of healthcare.
We are pleased that Cureatr is already helping providers nationwide delivery timely, effective remote care through the use of our medication management platform, Meds 360°. To assist even more providers, we recently announced that we will be offering open access to Meds 360°, free of cost, to all qualified hospitals, health systems, and provider organizations on the front lines of COVID-19 care (while capacity lasts). To get started, email firstname.lastname@example.org.