Coronavirus spurs rapid growth in telehealth

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New partnerships and novel ways of reaching patients have emerged during the coronavirus crisis. “COVID has been a turning point in telemedicine,” said Dr. Thomas Utecht, Community’s chief medical and quality officer.

 Dr. Jeffery Thomas, V.P. of Medical and Quality for Community Regional Medical Center described the rapid shift: “We’ve changed our entire clinic system to basically virtual appointments for the last two months, which is a huge endeavor. These things outside of a crisis usually take years to develop.”

When COVID-19 emerged locally in March and statewide shelter-in -place orders went into effect, Community and its affiliated medical providers collaborated quickly to securely connect virtually with patients. Since then, 211 physicians have provided nearly 31,000 telemedicine visits, increasing access to care for many who might have gone without.
“People are actually, truly able to give good care over a computer or an iPad,” Dr. Utecht said, adding that quality of care always depends on the doctor, the patient’s ability to describe issues and the device they’re connecting over. “But if you’re a person that’s not very mobile or elderly or have other health problems, being at home is probably safer than having to get on a bus or getting a taxi and coming to the doctor.”
Dr. Thomas predicted, “Access to care through telemedicine is going to leave a lasting effect.” Virtual doctor visits may increase the reach to rural areas and help with the chronic shortages of doctors in a region that has one of the lowest doctor-to-patient ratios in California. As communities return to a new normal, telemedicine may very well become a staple in patient healthcare tools.