By Marie Y. Lemelle
Telehealth is not new and is quickly becoming more commonplace. Medical offices and hospitals have implemented the infrastructure years ago and the foresight is paying off in a big way.
Also known as telemedicine, doctors, therapists and other medical professionals can easily provide health care in the comfort and safety of their patient’s own environment. With busy schedules, an inability to be mobile, a lack of transportation or the fear of sitting in a crowded waiting room, curfews and stay-at-home orders, virtual medical visits can be a life-saving and affordable option.
Dr. Meera Patel is a doctor of osteopathy and board certified in family medicine by the American Board of Family Medicine. She also is a medical article reviewer for Choosing Therapy, a website that offers advice and access to therapists across the country. Dr. Patel provides behavioral health treatment to her patients through numerous telemedicine platforms and sheds some light on the pros and cons of virtual medicine.
ML: What has changed with telehealth and telemedicine since COVID-19?
MP: Since COVID-19, telehealth and telemedicine services has had an unprecedented surge. With the pandemic, times have changed and will only continue to shift towards virtual care and increasing its adoption to help care for people of all ages and demographics throughout the world. While the virus has instilled fear within communities, people have access to care within the comforts and safety of their own homes.
With uncertainty, behavioral health has been in demand during COVID-19 and by leveraging telehealth many patients can have access to care. With the extreme influx of questions and concerns regarding COVID-19, doctors have been able to leverage telehealth and telemedicine to help guide and care for patients through this pandemic.
ML: Why did you choose to provide telemedicine before the pandemic deemed it was necessary?
MP: I have been using telehealth for the past 10 years. As a medical student, I used the technology to learn medicine and health care related topics. Telemedicine mimics an office visit whether it is through a virtual video visit, phone visit or even through platforms, which offer text-based visits.
My sole practice as a telemedicine doctor prior to the pandemic has been rewarding and helpful for my patients. I have been in the telehealth space offering telemedicine to pediatrics to geriatrics for the past 18 months, prior to the start of the pandemic. I transitioned from urgent care to telemedicine was due to the extreme difficulty in providing cost saving, convenient, efficient, and accessible care. I noticed the financial burden my patients constantly complained about in urgent care facilities.
There were many times I would see the same mother walk into urgent care with her three small children, ages between 2-6 years old, for various acute ailments from a cold, eye infection and flu, just to name a few. Urgent care was more expensive, but it was more convenient for her. When I encouraged her to visit the pediatrician, she talked about how difficult it was to take all her kids to every doctor’s visit across town since she had no one to watch them.
I was always happy to treat her kids, but I knew they were not receiving their routine wellness visits and were not able to establish continued care with their doctor. I was the doctor filling that role and providing the medical care these children needed. It is challenging to provide full scope of medical care in a 5- to 10-minute urgent care visit.
It’s patients similar to these that became the catalyst for my transition to telemedicine. I could provide more time for my patients and from the convenience of their own home as well as mine. I don’t have to be restricted to a 10-minute visit and my patients can have access to me within a matter of minutes without having to plan. This cost a fraction of what an urgent care visit would be.
ML: Does a virtual evaluation and treatment have its limits and is it effective?
MP: I offer many services I used to provide in office just as well, if not better, through telemedicine. I know how much my patients appreciate the accessibility of virtual visits prior to the pandemic. Since the COVID pandemic, my patient volume has increased dramatically as primary care offices had to shut down temporarily and many have decided to retire and close permanently. Many employers have included telemedicine visits as part of their insurance plan and people are starting to use telehealth services increasingly more.
Let’s take birth control for example. When a woman wants to start birth control, she often has various questions and concerns, which are not fully addressed in an office visit for different reasons. Either there wasn’t enough time or maybe the patient didn’t think of certain questions at the time. Starting a patient on birth control does not require a physical exam. Through telemedicine, I am able to answer any and all questions my patients may have at the time, provide ample resources for my patients to review and then make an informed decision.
I usually provide one year of medication. They can check in with me periodically and get an adjustment on their medication, if needed. Women who do not have to see their doctor in person every three months to renew their birth control are happy to have a service where they are heard and taken care of with such ease and efficiency.
ML: How are your patients adjusting to this new way of health care?
MP: More people are starting to shift towards telemedicine. I only insist on in person visits that require a physical evaluation. Patients are realizing that I can have them submit blood pressure logs and refill their medications if their blood pressure has been well controlled without seeing them. The same goes for diabetes and cholesterol management. My patients across the nation are realizing that the integration and adoption of telemedicine is a wonderful tool. As patients become more aware of the benefits of telemedicine, it will become a staple of health care. Typically, they are in disbelief but in the best way.
Marie Y. Lemelle is the founder of www.platinumstarpr.com and a film producer. She can be reached at MarieLemelle@platinumstarpr.com. Follow her on Instagram @platinumstarpr.