HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — WellSpan Health is offering telephone and video visits to medical and behavioral health patients amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Remote care protects patients, clinicians and staff by observing the social distancing that health officials are urging to lessen the spread of COVID-19.
“We are committed to the health of our patients,” said Kyle Letner, director of Connected Health for WellSpan. “In this time where our traditional way of seeing patients in an office setting may not be feasible or safe, we are finding the opportunity to see patients with whatever means we can, using technology.”
After federal and state health officials began recommending social distancing, WellSpan physician practices began reaching out to patients to see if they could and wanted to have a telephone visit or a video visit, using the camera on a smartphone, laptop or tablet.
WellSpan Health’s primary and specialty care practices all are now offering the option of these visits to appropriate patients.
Before this work began, less than 1 percent of patient visits were done remotely. That number rose to 40 percent in just one week.
Who can have a remote visit?
Telephone or video visits are suitable for patients with acute, common illness, such as a cough, urinary tract infections, sinus infections, diarrhea, a rash, flu-like symptoms and other issues, said Brian Pollak, M.D., medical director of Connected Health. In fact, Pollak said, patients with COVID-19 symptoms would be well-suited for a remote visit, if their symptoms are not severe.
Telephone or video visits also are appropriate for patients seeking preventive care or for patients seeking routine follow-up for ongoing health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, thyroid issues and other chronic problems, in conjunction with the necessary lab work or pharmacy visits.
Video visits are the preferred option for remote care, because seeing patients allows clinicians to best assess their condition.
Clinicians still will need to physically see patients who need a hands-on examination, to listen to their lungs, look into their ears or examine unusual lumps, for example. Also, remote visits are not well-suited for patients with more complex symptoms, such as someone who might have belly pain and a fever, patients with a chronic illness who experience new or unusual symptoms, or patients with a sudden onset of concerning symptoms such as new headaches with numbness.
For more information, visit WellSpan.org/coronavirus.
Setting the stage
WellSpan Health has been providing remote care in pioneering practices in York County. The efforts of these practices, plus the creation of new, reimagined services like Online Primary Care, Connected Care at Home and Online Urgent Care, made the rapid, recent expansion of online and remote services possible.
“It has shown us what works,” Pollak said. “It’s a testament to those practices that tried it out first.”
In addition, for urgent needs, patients continue to have access to WellSpan Online Urgent Care, via computer, smartphone or table, at WellSpan.org/OUC
Behavioral health remote visits
WellSpan Philhaven also is offering video visits to its patients for therapy visits or medication management.
“It’s like having the patient there,” said Lisa Woods, director of outpatient services for WellSpan Philhaven. “You can see them, see their face and demeanor, and have a face-to-face appointment without being in the same room.”
Therapists also are holding video group meetings for some of their most vulnerable patients, such as those with borderline personality disorder and other mental health issues who are receiving a type of therapy called dialectical behavior therapy. Group therapy is an important component of DBT so Philhaven worked quickly to make it available to patients via video, Woods said.
WellSpan Philhaven also plans to use video visits to deliver group therapy to other patients, as well as to deliver the other services it offers in offices, the community and homes.
Clinicians are still seeing patients in person, in rooms where they can maintain social distancing, if they feel that some patients still require that type of service.
How to Help
The physicians, nurses, clinicians, leaders and staff of WellSpan Health are grateful for the ongoing support of government leaders, businesses, nonprofit organizations, healthcare organizations and other community partners during this pandemic.
WellSpan is actively seeking donations of supplies, materials, blood, services and other needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To learn more about how you can help during this time, visit https://www.wellspan.org/coronavirus/i-want-to-help/ or call the Coronavirus Information Hotline at 1-855-851-3641 and select option 4.
About WellSpan Health
WellSpan Health is an integrated health system that serves the communities of central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland. The organization includes more than 1,600 employed physicians and advanced practice clinicians, a regional behavioral health organization, a home care organization, eight respected hospitals, approximately 20,000 employees, and more than 200 patient care locations. WellSpan is a charitable, mission-driven organization, committed to exceptional care for all, lifelong wellness and healthy communities. Visit WellSpan.org.