Receive convenient and quality care with TeleCare
Due to the ongoing pandemic, the use of audio-video platforms like Zoom and Skype have greatly increased at schools and work places around the country, including health organizations. Telemedicine, or telehealth, is the treatment of patients remotely by interacting with a provider through an audio-video platform. This newer method of care has surged in popularity as patients learn about the benefits and convenience of remote health visits.
LMH Health’s telemedicine journey
According to Michael Williams, Vice President and Chief Information Officer at LMH Health, telemedicine was being piloted in a few practices and outpatient social work at LMH Health prior to the pandemic. When pandemic-related lockdowns created a sudden demand for virtual health visits, government officials allowed health systems to use commercially available video tools, like Zoom, to offer telemedicine more easily. This prompted the rapid and effective use of telemedicine at several LMH Health departments and clinics, such as the endocrinology department.
“Immediately after the pandemic caused lockdowns across the country, Lawrence Endocrinology quickly adopted a telemedicine practice,” said Mark Oertel, MD, a physician at Lawrence Endocrinology. “We transitioned to 100% telemedicine within one to two weeks.”
At the start of the pandemic, LMH Health providers used Zoom to conduct virtual health visits and keep up with the demand for telehealth. However, LMH Health clinics have now transitioned to using AmWell, a HIPAA-compliant platform that uses end-to-end encryption to ensure the protection of LMH Health patients’ privacy. Additionally, AmWell integrates electronic health records into its system, making it easy for providers to access patient health records during telemedicine visits.
Telemedicine at LMH: How it works
A variety of services can be offered via telemedicine, such as chronic care management, behavior counseling, medication management, and visual inspection. If it is determined that a patient can opt for telemedicine instead of an in-person appointment, the patient will receive a link to their scheduled appointment via email or text. In order to attend a virtual visit, you will need an electronic device such as a phone, tablet or computer, as well as access to a web browser and the internet via WiFi or data service.
Telemedicine visits follow a format similar to regular in-person visits, including an intake portion to update health information, followed by the exam.
“We will send the appointment link or call 10-15 minutes before the visit so we can review medication changes, health changes, specific concerns of the visit and provide some tech support if needed. Then they are placed in a virtual exam room. After that, the doctor logs in to start the visit,” said Dr. Oertel.
In terms of insurance coverage, the Kansas Telemedicine Act, effective since January 1, 2019, established coverage parity for telemedicine health visits. This means that if an in-person health visit can be conducted via telemedicine, insurance can cover the visit, but it won’t necessarily be covered at the same rate as in-person visits. However, Medicare currently reimburses telemedicine at the same rate due to the pandemic, and they have lifted many of their restrictions on covering telemedicine.
“Because Medicare has reduced many of these telemedicine restrictions for coverage, many other insurance agencies have begun to lift their own restrictions as well,” said Williams.
It is always a good idea to call your insurer and learn how telemedicine visits are covered before scheduling an appointment.
The benefits of telemedicine
The first benefit that patients and providers often think of in terms of telemedicine is its convenience. With telemedicine, you are able to attend appointments wherever you have access to a web browser and the internet, such as the comfort and privacy of your home, during a break at the office, or on the go in between errands. You can skip the ride to the doctor’s office and waiting room lines to access quality health care with ease.
Because of the pandemic, many patients are more hesitant to visit hospitals and clinics in fear of coming in contact with COVID-19. Matt Bihlmaier, DO, a physician with Reed Internal Medicine, believes high-risk patients have benefited greatly from being able to use telemedicine to get care.
“Our clinic has a large population of patients considered high-risk for complications if they were to get COVID,” said Dr. Bihlmaier. “These patients need to be seen frequently for management of multiple conditions. We cannot risk bringing in a possible COVID-positive patient into our clinic and exposing them to these high-risk patients. Telemedicine allows us to assess sick patients remotely while keeping other patients and staff safe.”
Even patients who are not at high risk for COVID-related complications often appreciate the ability to visit with their doctor virtually and reduce any stress related to coming in contact with transmissible illnesses. Additionally, telemedicine also allows family members who live in a different state to be present for clinic visits. According to Dr. Bihlmaier, this works well for nursing home patients who have family members who live out of state but still want to be involved in the patient's care.
As for the technological benefits of telemedicine, Williams shared many features that physicians can use to enhance virtual health visits.
“Physicians can use screen sharing to show their patients images and diagrams like x-rays and lab results, they can use a white board feature to help explain a something through writing or drawing, and patients can even read closed-captioning while listening to their doctor during an appointment,” said Williams.
Thanks to the convenience and advanced technology of telemedicine, virtual health visits have allowed patients to receive quality health care wherever it works best for them and maintain a healthier lifestyle.
“It is a well-known fact that patients who see their doctor on a routine basis have better health outcomes, lower ER admissions, and lower mortality rates,” said Dr. Bihlmaier. “Telemedicine has allowed patients who can't leave home or work to see a provider routinely and maintain these healthy outcomes.”