This week, partially because I am premed, I decided to research how hospitals, including Choices Women’s Medical Center (my placement), are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. I wanted to understand how the outbreak would change the ways that patients interact with doctors. The biggest change I found was the increasing use of the telehealth system: a way in which patients can call in using video to schedule an appointment. I decided to interview a few people who are part of the clinic and do my own internet research about the pros/cons of a telehealth system.
Although Choices in-office care was open during the pandemic, they began to promote and expand their telehealth services. Though founded in 1971, Choices led in the development of online care for women’s health since 2016. According to one of my mentors, Choices Tele-Health was a way for the clinic to offer the same high-quality healthcare as their in-office visits while complying with social distancing guidelines. From the comfort and safety of a patient’s own home, Telehealth is another way to talk to healthcare professionals.
But wouldn’t online doctor appointments compromise quality? Apparently not, especially if the appointment requires little more than talking. Essentially, the same conversations occur in an in-office and telehealth visit: the only difference is that one is virtual. Patients can share a private, personal video meeting with one of Choices’ healthcare professionals or licensed social workers who will be able to address their specific concerns and answer any questions they may have.
Additionally, what’s cool about telehealth is that it allows patients to meet from anywhere! Telehealth allows flexibility with scheduling—a lunch break, after dinner, or on the drive to work. And, because the appointment is virtual, patients will not only save time and money, but it will limit the time they are are out of their home during this pandemic.
According to another mentor, “from counseling to a range of essential GYN visits including birth control, follow-ups, lab results, Full Pre-Natal Care, nutrition, and general options counseling, Choices ensures that their patients can privately and safely access our health professionals through our telehealth network”.
Now comes the confusing part: how does a patient tell the difference if they should have an in-person appointment or a telehealth appointment? If your appointment requires minimal contact, then telehealth may be the right option. Examples include: follow up visits, consultations, and general questions about sickness symptoms, etc. However, if someone likely requires testing or in-office procedures, then they should schedule an in-office visit. According to their website, Choices also made it easy to shift between a virtual visit and an in-office visit if necessary. That’s so if a patient is not sure if you require any in-office procedures, they can also schedule a telehealth appointment and talk to their doctor about it first. That way, if they do require in-office testing or procedures, their doctor can transfer them to an in-office visit during their meeting, which can make their in-office visits shorter and their wait times less!
So, has COVID-19 permanently changed the way patients interact with doctors? The answer is a resounding YES! Now that telehealth has been popularized and streamlined, I believe that more and more doctor’s visits will be online. Be it annual appointments, follow-ups for procedures, or even just the question about the common cold, telehealth is using technology to make strides into the future.