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Pandemic Accelerates Telehealth Adoption

Pandemic Accelerates Telehealth Adoption

Telehealth technology and its use are not new, but most healthcare providers and patients within Excela Health’s service area would have considered a telephone call to be the extent of it. That all changed with the onset of COVID-19 when it was imperative to adjust the way in which the health system triaged, evaluated and cared for patients to reduce staff exposure to ill persons, preserve personal protective equipment and minimize the impact of patient surges on the hospitals.

Over the past 14 months, more than 250 Excela clinicians have conducted a combined 42,000 telehealth visits using a variety of platforms. To accelerate the practice, Excela’s Information Technology team deployed 400 IPads across the Excela Health Medical Group to effect the audiovisual connection.

The Family Medicine Residency teaching offices – Excela Square Latrobe Family Medicine, Excela Square Frick Family Medicine and Saltsburg Family Medicine – were already early adopters. For years prior to COVID-19, these offices have conducted 15 to 20 telemedicine psychiatry visits per month, noted program director Mike Semelka, DO.

“Prior to the pandemic there had been a lot of momentum, and certainly a desire from patients and healthcare providers, to provide this service,” he said. “COVID-19 jump-started the transition.” From March 2020 to February 2021, these same practices provided 2,667 telehealth visits (including formal video and phone visits).

Elsewhere, George Mizikar, Director of Behavioral Health Services, saw telehealth visits soar across his service line. “Our patients were grateful for the connection because that helped to dial down the anxiety that existed about being in public during a national health crisis.”

Janice Devine, Excela Health’s Chief Information Officer, believes the urgency created by the pandemic, provided the impetus for payors and providers in all specialties to re-think the traditional office visit. Is it necessary to “touch” the patient to diagnose a problem, or conduct a checkup following a procedure when a video visit would allow the clinician to “see” the patient? In some instance, the answer was yes, but often the situations that brought patients to the office were just as easily handled remotely.

“Telehealth tears down barriers to care and expands access,” says Devine. “That broadens the health system’s footprint because we are able to reach individuals in new ways.”

And given the widespread use of Zoom, FaceTime, Google Duo and other SmartPhone applications to visually connect with school, work or family and friends, patients of all ages are open to change.

The biggest challenge for Devine is assuring patient privacy and HIPAA compliance by choosing the right platform and operationalizing it across the system. But it’s a problem she is happy to solve, because while the crisis that fueled rethinking the in-person visit may be soon be past, telehealth at Excela Health is here to stay.

Check out a virtual visit the next time you need to check in with your Excela Health provider.

• Routine checkup

• Coronavirus concerns

• Flu or cold symptoms

• Review testing results

• Medication review

• Obstetrics and gynecology follow-up appointments

• Medicare wellness visit

• Behavioral health appointments

• Post-operative checkup