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Using Telehealth to Deliver Care Safely During COVID-19

October 06, 2020

Necessity is the mother of invention, it's said. The University of Kansas Health System proved the adage true when the coronavirus pandemic required office closures and physical distancing. The measures were designed with safety in mind, but patients still needed care. Expanded telehealth services – also known as telemedicine services – were born.

“Prior to COVID-19, regulatory restrictions and coverage limitations prevented widespread use of telehealth services, but the pandemic made it necessary to remove those barriers so patients could safely obtain care,” says otolaryngologist Keith Sale, MD, vice president and physician executive for ambulatory services. “Today, telehealth is a sustainable, long-term tool in our toolkit. It elevates safety, flexibility, convenience and access. We can provide this amazing service to anyone, anywhere.”

According to Dr. Sale, the health system historically conducted about 500 telehealth visits each year. Following the expansion of telehealth services as part of the COVID-19 response effort, the health system conducted about 25,000 telehealth appointments in the offering’s first 5 weeks.

For some, it may be tough to imagine receiving care without physical contact. But it’s a change our new normal demands and a more comfortable experience than many expect.

“Our patients and providers are universally loving this,” Dr. Sale says. “That physical connection might not be there in the way we’re used to, but we can still connect with each other. We take cues from patients’ facial expressions or from their posture, for example. I don’t think we’ll lose that personal connection as much as people might think.”

Patients welcome the efficiency and convenience of telemedicine. A telehealth patient recently shared on Facebook, “I saw my cardiologist last week via Zoom. It was a good alternative for me. I live 100 miles away.”

That cardiologist was Ashley Simmons, MD.

“I love telehealth,” she says. “It allows easy access for my patients. Our appointments are on time, and nobody is dealing with drive time, traffic or parking. I’ve seen many patients from small towns in Kansas and Missouri. They’re getting the care they need without a travel burden. There are certainly times when I need and want to see patients in person, but my patients and I love having a telehealth option.”

The University of Kansas Cancer Center team also has embraced the new telehealth appointments.

“Telehealth began as a way to prepare for a potential surge in coronavirus cases, when the risk of exposure would be high for a vulnerable patient population that would still need care,” says medical oncologist Gary Doolittle, MD. “It began as a way to manage to the future, but we also feel it’s the right thing to do for our patients and for our organization. Telehealth provides safety and flexibility. I think it’s an effort that’s going to stick.”

Dr. Sale agrees, citing telehealth services as a long-term strategy to make quality care available to more patients in new ways.

“I believe telehealth is here to stay,” Dr. Sale says. “We live in a COVID-19 world now. As we look at continued recovery, telehealth presents an opportunity to give and receive care while safely distancing. It also offers efficiency and convenience that patients appreciate, especially those who live throughout Kansas where they may not have local access to specialty care. A combination of in-person and telehealth visits is going to be our new normal.”

Today, telehealth is a sustainable, long-term tool in our toolkit. It elevates safety, flexibility, convenience and access. We can provide this amazing service to anyone, anywhere. – Keith Sale, MD

Otolaryngologist, vice president and physician executive for ambulatory services

Frequently asked questions about telehealth

  • Telehealth involves a patient and a provider using technology to interact from different locations. It offers efficiency, convenience and comfort and reduces the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus. Telehealth can be done by computer, tablet or smartphone.

    The health system offers several telehealth visit types.

    • A telehealth video visit provides real-time communication between you and your provider. It requires your device to have audio and video.
    • If you don’t have video capability, a telephone visit may be a good fit. You can receive care in phone communication with your provider.
    • In the MyChart patient portal, you can use care messaging to communicate with your provider team.

    Telehealth visits can address a variety of primary, specialty and urgent care needs.

  • The American Academy of Family Physicians defines telemedicine and telemedicine services as the practice of medicine using technology to deliver care at a distance, and telehealth as a broad term describing the technologies and services used to provide care at a distance.

    We at the health system generally refer to our virtual visit options as telehealth services.

  • For telemedicine video visits, patients and providers connect using the Zoom teleconference platform and a computer, tablet or smartphone. We “meet” in a secure, private Zoom meeting. Patients may choose to connect from their homes or offices – or any safe, private place.

    It is important to set up your computer, tablet or smartphone with Zoom ahead of time as well as test audio and video capabilities to ensure your video doctor visit is effective. Visit our telehealth page for guidance, and don’t worry – we had a 100-year-old patient successfully experience a telehealth video visit!

  • Yes. Most insurance plans cover telehealth visits.

  • Telehealth services present another option to choose to receive care when and how you want to receive it. Telehealth is comfortable, convenient and time- and cost-efficient, making it easier than ever to plan and receive important care in a timely manner.

  • Telehealth visits make it easy for people to obtain care with reduced risk of exposure to COVID-19. While our teams work very hard to follow protocols to maintain a safe environment, some people are simply more comfortable remaining at home. Telehealth ensures many types of necessary care can comfortably occur without delay. It reduces risk of exposure for our healthcare workers, too.

  • Most people who have COVID-19 can rest and recover safely at home. Telehealth visits provide a convenient, safe connection between these patients and their providers. Individuals with mild cases of the virus can safely receive COVID-19 treatment in virtual doctor visits that help contain infection spread.

  • New and established patients may receive telehealth services for a variety of primary, specialty and urgent care needs. You can receive care for allergies, coughs, fevers, rashes, follow-up care after procedures and much more. You must have an account on our MyChart patient portal to receive telehealth services. Some online doctor appointments can be self-scheduled in MyChart. Others must be scheduled with our scheduling team. Call 913-588-1227 for assistance.

    Of course, some medical needs can only be treated through in-person visits.

  • Choose the health system for your telehealth appointments for the same reason you choose us for in-person services. While telehealth is a new type of visit we use to provide care, the quality of the care itself and our commitment to you and your loved ones have not changed at all. The University of Kansas Health System offers the region’s leading care and is dedicated to the health of you and your family.

Make an appointment

Call 913-588-1227 to make a telehealth appointment or request one online.

You’ll need a MyChart account to receive care by telehealth. If you already have one, you may be able to self-schedule a telehealth appointment, depending on your need. If you do not have one, you can sign up for one now.

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