by Anita Del Bianco, MD, FACOG
Many of our patients have recently experienced a first for Premier Women’s Care of Southwest Florida – telehealth visits.
In March, in order to avoid the potential spread of the novel coronavirus, we began offering our established patients telehealth appointments as an alternative to certain types of visits.
In addition to the added safety, most patients really enjoy telehealth because it’s so convenient. They can visit with us from the comfort of their home or office via Skype for Business, which offers video chat from a phone, laptop or tablet.
Telehealth emerged in the late 1990s as a way to increase access to health care for rural and other hard-to-serve populations. More recently, it has increased in popularity as a way to provide greater convenience for patients and reduce costs in many clinical settings.
In January, just before COVID-19 vastly accelerated the adoption of telehealth around the world, a Presidential Task Force on Telehealth of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists noted that telehealth had become widely used in obstetrics and gynecology.
“Evidence suggests that telehealth provides comparable health outcomes when compared with traditional methods of health care delivery without compromising the patient–physician relationship, and it also has been shown to enhance patient satisfaction and improve patient engagement,” according to the ACOG task force.
Given this endorsement form ACOG, along with the positive reception telehealth services have received from our patients, as well as our own satisfaction with its application in our practice, we anticipate that we may continue to offer telehealth visits on a permanent basis.
Telehealth works well for visits that primarily involve sharing information, such as discussing birth control options, ultrasound or other test results, or plans for further treatment. Many follow-up appointments, including uncomplicated postpartum or postoperative visits, can also be done as virtual visits.
In some cases, an initial visit can be done via telehealth for matters such as urinary tract infections or vaginal discharge, where a physical examination or in-office diagnostic tests may or may not eventually be required. We can determine during a telehealth visit if an in-person visit is needed.
Telehealth visits are easy to do. Patients simply download an app to their phone or device for use in telehealth visits. Our office offers help and instructions, and most patients have been able to use telehealth without any problems.
Our electronic medical record system is interfaced with a telehealth service, and telehealth visits are billed the same way a regular office visit is billed. Co-pays are still charged as required by the insurance company, and most insurance companies do cover telehealth visits.
Of course, telehealth cannot replace traditional medicine, since providers are unable to perform physical exams via video. A physical exam is, and always will be, a crucial part of obstetrics and gynecology.
However, in instances where telehealth is a viable solution, we are glad to be able to offer this service to our patients for their safety and convenience.