Sunday, August 14, 2022

As the coronavirus spreads, doctors turn to video-conferencing for patients

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, local physicians are turning to video conferencing to see patients and reduce risks. (Port City Daily/File)

WILMINGTON — The way we do things is changing thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. From e-learning for students to shopping for groceries from the comfort of a couch, technology has greatly impacted and in many cases, helped slow the spread of Covid-19.

It has especially changed the way people think about healthcare and treatment.

Virtual doctor appointments have been around for several years, however, with the current pandemic it has rapidly replaced in-person visits for many healthcare facilities in the region. In an effort to limit contact with those infected with Covid-19, virtual visits are becoming a more common tool for healthcare professionals and patients alike — but there are still plenty of questions surrounding the use of technology for treating sicknesses.

According to Wilmington Health CEO Jeff James, this shift is likely to stick around after the pandemic passes.

“I think this is one of the more positive things that will likely come from this really challenging time we are all going through. I do think that telehealth, at least in some form or fashion, will be here and become part of the healthcare system on a regular basis, and it is actually likely to become better medicine,” James said.

Telehealth has been largely controlled by national companies prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to James. Patients would call a doctor and receive treatment over the phone or video chat but by doing this, patients were not connecting with their primary care physicians.

“In the past what has happened is telehealth was sort of relegated to national telehealth companies, and in those instances, when patients contact those telehealth services they are not connected with their primary care doctor, they are not connected to their community’s healthcare system. Often times, if the national company couldn’t adequately care for the patient, they would send them to the emergency department because they have no place else for them to go,” he said.

Virtual doctor visits also offer significant convenience for patients and it offers more people easier access to healthcare. While it is useful for certain things, there are, of course, other times where a patient will need to be seen in person.

Medac Urgent Care also offers telemedicine options and suggests it for things like:

  • Prescription refills
  • Cold, flu, allergy and sinus symptoms
  • Bronchitis, cough
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Pink eye
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Common rashes and minor wounds
  • Sprains/strains

As previously mentioned, telemedicine is not new, but it has not been a common thing for most local physicians, but as Covid-19 took off in the United States, Wilmington Health rolled out their WH Anywhere program in a matter of days, James said.

“We adopted our Wilmington Health Anywhere platform very quickly. We were already moving in that direction but the onset of the coronavirus provided a catalyst to speed that up. We were able to deploy our Wilmington Health Anywhere platform in about three days,” he said.

  • Prescription refills
  • Cold, flu, allergy and sinus symptoms
  • Bronchitis, cough
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Pink eye
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Common rashes and minor wounds
  • Sprains/strains

The reaction to the new technology has been well-received by patients, although, as with any new technology there are bound to be some difficulties along the way.

“There can be some technology challenges and certainly, the older generation has a few more of those technology challenges. But our staff now, after doing this for a number of weeks is pretty good at navigating and assisting our patients,” James said.

Once the coronavirus pandemic eases, James said he thinks telehealth visits will become more commonplace. It will also offer a way for doctors to provide medical care to those who might not have the same access as someone living in a more populated area. In fact, many of the major healthcare companies proposing to partner with or purchase New Hanover Regional Medical Center have included strong telehealth elements. Given the extensive rural area outside Wilmington that’s still served by NHRMC, telehealth is likely to play a considerable role in the hospital’s ongoing development.


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