Telehealth innovation to be used long after the pandemic

Published: Jan. 21, 2021 at 10:34 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Telehealth is here to stay. Though virtual appointments were already being used before the pandemic - to some degree, doctors say the tool is becoming more of a staple for them.

This means it’ll become a staple for their patients.

Though the onset of the pandemic may have pushed providers to lean on their phones and laptops more, local physicians agree the changing innovation can be more helpful some situations.

”There’s nothing as good as talking to a patient in person.” said Dr. John Vann, a Pediatrician at Omaha Childrens Clinic, but he acknowledges the sheer convenience can’t be beat.

“We’re getting better with zoom and Facetime’s really easy.” Vann added.

For a mostly rural state - the need to innovate online mental and behavioral health options, especially during a period of heightened stress, pushed groups like UNMC ahead of the curve.

“We all became somewhat rural providers when the pandemic began because we were all at a distance and we needed to be.” said Holly Roberts, PhD. Roberts is an Associate Professor at the Munroe-Meyer Institute’s Department of Psychology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Roberts also works in pediatrics and says providers acted quickly to maintain patient care during a period of social distancing. They adapted to new practices by expanding their repertoire of tools.

”We used new child friendly objects and games. There are also many apps and add-ons we utilize with our virtual platforms to achieve rapport with families and children.” Roberts said.

UNMC was familiar with telehealth ‘pre-pandemic’, but Roberts said over the last few months, they doubled down on virtual options along with the research and training necessary to make sure it was just as effective as an in-person doctor’s visit.

“All of those elements have been highly studied and they are equivalent to in-person care. Telehealth for behavioral health care has been limited at times by insurance companies and state regulations. But as of March 2020, regulations and restrictions loosened across the nation.” she stated.

Roberts said she’s committed to seeing the future of telehealth strengthen as well and put the action behind those words to show it.

Recently she was a panel designed specifically for leaders in the telehealth community to share what they have learned and to discuss challenges and opportunities in reimbursement, best practices, public-private partnerships, health care resilience, and biosecurity.

As for other major health care providers in the Omaha Metro area, like Methodist Hospital, telehealth is also key.

Currently the majority of their primary care physicians and some specialty services are offering virtual services to patients.

Their telehealth services can be utilized for follow up on some chronic conditions. For example, hypertension, diabetes, and some mental health concerns like anxiety and depression.

These appointments are also extended to acute illness like non-severe cases of COVID -19, rashes, and minor injuries.

Dr. Ashley LeGrand-Rozovics of the Methodist Physicians Clinic said telehealth will never be recommended over the health and well being of a patient if in-person care is what they need.

She went on to say “It is best suited for patients to be seen in person for preventative health visits (well adult and well child exams), serious or life threatening illness (chest pain, increasing difficulty breathing, stroke symptoms, etc), and more serious injury (such as concern for broken bones/skin lacerations).”

And equally as important for both institutions, is for patients to understand they can always contact their doctors office in order to be directed to the most appropriate care.