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Virus Helping Speed Spread Of Telemedicine

Tallahassee Memorial Hospital
Tallahassee Memorial Hospital

Although the idea of telemedicine hasn't been quick to catch on in Florida, the spread of the coronavirus seems to be accelerating the concept.  For years, telemedicine advocates have floated hopeful schemes to imbed the technology into the everyday provision of healthcare. That advance, while steady, had not exactly been rapid. Then COVID-19 came along. 

Tallahassee Memorial Hospital
Credit Tom Flanigan
Tallahassee Memorial Hospital

"We've been trying to keep people out of doctors' offices and the hospital to minimize exposure. And so using telemedicine, which is real-time, hipa-compliant videoconferencing, patients can see their doctors while they're at home, they can connect with them for a consult that's like Facetime or Skyping."

That's Lauren Faison Clark. She's the administrator for Regional Development, Population Health and Telemedicine for Tallahassee Memorial Health Care. She said this way of seeing a doctor seemed tailor-made for the hospital's COVID-19 drive through testing set up at the old Northwood Centre.

"If somebody needs to see a physician to be screened for COVID-19 we are doing that virtually so we are literally rolling up a surface-pro on a cart to the patient's windown and they can talk to the doctor and get that assessment done without leaving their car."

But Faison Clark added telemedicine has many more applications beyond viral screening.

"Just because we have this virus doesn't mean other health issues go away. So this allows people to stay connected to their care team and people who know them and get those visits while minimizing unnecessary traffic sitting in a waiting room."

And that telemedicine technology is available to a growing number of health care providers; nearly two dozen in the Capital City area thus far.

"That's 21 practices! Some of these practices have 25-30 providers; hundreds of providers who are ready to do this, so they just need to ask their doctor's office, 'Hey, I want to do this.'"

Of course, there's the matter of making sure that low-income and rural patients can avail themselves of the telemedicine option. Faison Clark said the key is simply having access to a smart phone, or any network-capable device.

"It is literally either downloading an app and clicking on a link or clicking on a link on your computer. We have made it as easy as possible and very few people have struggled with it. When most people realize they can see their doctor without leaving their house, they're willing to jump through those hoops to make it happen."

Florida as a whole has been slow in deploying telemedicine, to a large degree because it typically wasn't covered by insurance. But Faison Clark said changes in that arena, plus the coronavirus outbreak are helping speed adoption of the technology statewide.

"That was our biggest holdup in the past because a lot of the payers like commercial insurance weren't mandated to pay for telehealth so they didn't. So it was difficult to implement it broad scale but now they have to. And I'm hoping that the long-term effect will be that they see this is a cost-saving measure and it does keep people healthier and they should continue to do this long-term."

And in this time of COVID-19, anything that can be done to minimize the possible exposure of both patients and their health care providers is a very good thing.

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