Over the past year, the use of telehealth and virtual doctors appointments have seen a dramatic rise. This is in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing people to be isolated in their homes and medical offices to be strict with social distancing. According to Fair Health, telehealth claim lines rose 3,060% from October 2019 to October 2020.
Tonya Heyman, medical director at the Cleveland Health Institute in Lyndhurst; and Carl Vondracek, associate director at the Jewish Family Service Association in Pepper Pike, said telehealth has allowed medical service providers and patients to stay connected during these difficult times.
JFSA, like many other agencies, was not delivering telehealth services prior to March 2020. A lot of that had to do with more strict licensure and certification guidelines. However, with the onset of COVID-19, those guidelines were all greatly relaxed. This helped open up the opportunity for JFSA and other mental health providers to administer telehealth services.
“It has allowed us to really maintain our function as a mental health agency or entity, and to meet the client needs,” Vondracek said. “These are services we would have been otherwise unable to provide because of the lockdown restrictions. In the very beginning (of the pandemic) there was a shortage of necessary PPE (personal protective equipment) or adequate office space to ensure social distancing. So, telehealth has allowed mental health services to continue to be delivered and be received with little or no disruption since COVID began, at least from our agency.”
Heyman said the advent of telemedicine has allowed people with busy schedules to fit these necessary appointments into their day.
“The fact is now we ask them, ‘Do you want a telemedicine visit or do you want to come in’ and it’s wonderful because a lot of mothers with children, and working parents with children, or ordinary working people, they love telemedicine,” Heyman said. “They absolutely love it.”
However, Vondracek warns there are limitations to telemedicine. For one, it can be more difficult to establish a new relationship through virtual means than it would be in person.
“It can be harder to establish rapport and trust over telehealth,” Vondracek said. “Especially, if it’s just over telephone, and especially if there hasn’t been a prior relationship that’s been built. Like if I was working with you, you were my counselor, and I was seeing you on a face-to-face basis when COVID hit, and then we switched to telehealth, I already had developed trust and rapport. So, that transition to telehealth wasn’t as big of a jump as me trying to get to know somebody, and develop a relationship over just a telephone call.”
Heyman also added there are certain processes during a checkup that may be suited better for an in-person visit.
“The other thing is that, if it’s a problem that requires anything physical by the health care team, like if you have diabetes or hypertension, and you’re not good at doing your own weight or blood pressures, or you don’t have the phone app now that lets you do your own EKGs at home, then you probably need to go in,” Heyman said.
However, she added people are starting to learn how to do these things.
“But, a lot of people now really like not going in,” Heyman said. “They’re very tech savvy and so they’re able to communicate all of that stuff so the office visit will go very smoothly, as if they were sitting right there.”
At the end of the day, Vondracek said one of the most important factors for whether a patient should opt for telehealth or an in-person visit is how comfortable they are.
“You know with COVID still out there, are there any co-occurring medical conditions that the patient has to be aware of?” Vondracek said. “Are they auto-immune-…