Last Thursday at 2:53 p.m., I suddenly remembered my son’s 3:00 p.m. online healthcare appointment. I grabbed my laptop, called my son into the room, logged into the website doxy.me, and was ready with one minute to spare. The most difficult part had been getting my 10-year-old to come into the room. This video conference appointment, typical of telemedicine, is our new normal since the arrival of Coronavirus (COVID-19).
My son’s doctor is not unique in her transition to telemedicine. In an effort to decrease transmission of COVID-19, healthcare providers all over the country have moved less urgent appointments online, allowing them to evaluate patients without sharing physical space (and possible illness). While telemedicine is not a new form of patient care, it was more commonly used for homebound patients and patients in rural areas. Today, both healthcare practitioners and patients are learning to navigate the ins-and-outs of the online healthcare appointment. How is the Hauppauge community coping with this transition to telemedicine? Several Hauppauge residents were kind enough to share their experiences.
Like any healthcare visit, a video conference appointment requires that a healthcare practitioner and a patient come together. And like any appointment, you need to know the date, time, and location. With telemedicine, accessing the location can be the tricky part for some patients. Residents interviewed who had established appointments were contacted about the option of telemedicine. Prior to the appointment time, each patient was assisted with accessing the online video conferencing application. One resident noted it was a learning curve for both the patients and the practitioners, but that each member of the healthcare team was patient and helpful. Another resident reported initial issues with downloading the videoconferencing application, but once this was solved, found it easy to use. After each patient successfully logged in, their healthcare provider joined, and the appointment would begin, much like a standard office visit. Reported wait time for appointments was brief, and one resident commented that it was much shorter than an in-office visit. All of the residents interviewed stated that overall, their experiences with telemedicine were positive.
There are benefits to telemedicine appointments. One resident liked the lack of exposure to sick patients in an office (beyond the COVID-19 outbreak) and the shorter wait time. She also preferred video conferencing to a telephone appointment, because she could speak to her doctor face-to-face and see that she had his full attention. Another resident felt her consultation was very similar to one in a medical office, as she could see the doctor, listen to his recommendations, and ask questions. Residents also appreciated that you could show a healthcare practitioner visuals of a healing wound or a rash with your phone camera, though one expressed concern that this might not provide a clear enough representation of what is going on. All of the residents interviewed were appreciative of telemedicine and grateful that in an outbreak such as this, they had the ability to utilize this technology. However, all expressed the importance of physical presence in healthcare.
While video conferencing technology allows patients and healthcare providers to see and hear one another, there are limitations. The inability to perform certain clinical tests and assessments, like taking an x-ray, are given limitations (for now). Beyond this, residents interviewed also felt video conferencing limited the connection between the patient and healthcare practitioner. One resident thought it would be difficult to establish a relationship with a healthcare practitioner via telemedicine. Another expressed that while telemedicine is useful, it does not have the same level of personal interaction as an in-office visit. One resident also pointed out that telemedicine appointments might prove more difficult for those who have limited visual, hearing, or cognitive capabilities.
Although most of the residents interviewed admitted to not being “tech-savvy,” with assistance from their providers, all were able to successfully access and navigate the technology necessary for video conferencing. When asked who in our community faced the biggest challenges in transitioning to telemedicine, all expressed concern about the elderly. Why? Lack of access and/or familiarity with the technology required. One resident also noted age-related issues such as hearing loss and infirmity can create barriers to telemedicine. This resident also added that economically disadvantaged community members are also at-risk of decreased access and/or familiarity with the technology required. Bridging the technology gap will be critical to the future of telemedicine. As one resident wisely noted, people need both access to the technology and the capability to use it in order benefit from telemedicine.
So what is the future of telemedicine? Now that it has become extensively established, many feel it will be utilized more regularly in patient care. Most of the residents interviewed felt there is a place for telemedicine in patient care, but not as a replacement for all in-person interactions. One resident felt telemedicine could ease time pressures on physicians, and would be ideal for appointments like prescription renewals that do not require in-person physical assessment. Another resident felt that telemedicine needed to be used carefully, and should be viewed as a tool, not an end-all. Whatever the future holds, the Hauppauge community will continue to learn, adapt, and support one another, just as we have through the current crisis.
To learn more about telemedicine, visit:
COVID-19 Guidance and Services Specific to Suffolk County: Telemedicine
Telehealth Information for Patients (Health Resources and Services Administration)
Recent New York Times articles on telemedicine (available through Live-brary):
The New Language of Telehealth
A Pandemic Benefit: The Expansion of Telemedicine
Doctors and Patients Turn to Telemedicine in the Coronavirus Outbreak
With Red Tape Lifted, Dr. Zoom Will See You Now
Other recent articles on telemedicine:
5 Reasons Why Telehealth Is Here To Stay (COVID-19 And Beyond) (Forbes)
How To Get The Most Out Of Your Virtual Medical Appointment (NPR)
Telemedicine Videos Go From 80 to Almost 8,000 This Month at One Health System (Newsday)