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Healthcare goes virtual during the pandemic

Patients use telemedicine to continue their care remotely during the pandemic

Carol Habel doesn’t describe herself as a computer whiz, but she is becoming something of a pro at telemedicine.

When guidance began to come out about COVID-19 and the people most susceptible to it, Habel knew that quarantine would be an important line of defense for her. At age 72 and living with diabetes, she is among those most at risk of complications from the coronavirus.

Normally, she visits her doctors at Augusta Health for routine checkups, bloodwork and, occasionally, to have a procedure to address cardiac issues. But since in-person visits have been limited, Habel has been having her exams by videoconference and has been so satisfied that she hopes to continue them after in-person visits resume as normal.

“It’s extremely easy to do,” Habel says. “I had no problems at all. Even when we are able to visit doctors for regular checkups again, I think [telehealth] would be good for people who have routine visits.”

Habel sees Nelly Maybee, MD, for diabetes care. “For many patients, it’s better for me to connect with them on video than to wait three months to speak in person,” says Dr. Maybee. In virtual visits, Dr. Maybee can ask questions to see if patients need their prescriptions adjusted. And some patients with internet-enabled glucose monitors can share their blood glucose readings digitally.

One aspect of Habel’s in-person checkups with Dr. Maybee is an A1C test, which measures her average blood glucose level over three months. Because Habel checks her glucose levels every day and knew they had been normal, she opted not to make a separate visit for the test. But she was already scheduled to see her nephrologist, so she was able to tack on the test during that visit. “All of the doctors work very well together,” Habel says.

Habel had another telemedicine appointment, this time with her cardiologist, Kenneth Sternberg, DO, during which she reported that her pulse had recently jumped to almost double its normal rate and stayed high. “He said we needed to check it out that afternoon, and when I got there, he said, ‘I’m glad we did,’” she adds. After an EKG, Dr. Sternberg determined Habel needed to have her heart shocked back into a safe rhythm.

Being able to visit on an as-needed basis has provided a level of comfort for Habel, letting her know that if she does need to go to the hospital, she’s unlikely to encounter a crowd of people like she might under normal circumstances.“I think that’s one of the beauties of the system—if you or your doctor have concerns, then the second step is that you can come in to talk to them,” Habel says.

Augusta Health uses a couple technologies to conference with patients. One, called Doxy.me, is best for desktop users. The other, Doximity, sends patients a meeting link via text message, which is especially useful for those who have weak internet service at home.

“I don’t think telehealth will replace visits,” Dr. Maybee says, “but I think it’s a great adjunct to medicine.”

Get connected. Ask your doctor if using telehealth is an option for you. Staff in your doctor’s office can help you with technical questions.