“Times of crisis spark innovation. At St. Mary’s and Clearwater Valley Hospitals and Clinics we acknowledge the need to keep people physically distanced to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our communities,” says Dr. Colleen Sholar, CVHC. “But, we also know that this pandemic does not make any of our long term medical problems less important. In order to make sure our patients are still seen for their medical needs we have implemented a Telemedicine virtual clinic using a Zoom (videoconferencing) platform which is HIPAA compliant.”
“The Zoom platform was designed for use by health care providers, though not specifically for medical visits, so over the long haul we may transition to another platform, but we see the importance of starting this program now,” says Sholar. “Telemedicine is great for any question or concern that does not require a hands-on exam and can be done safely from your living room; even if there is a question of when or where you should be seen this platform allows us to plan better for your care.”
“The process will be new for our medical staff as well as our patients. When you call for an appointment and indicate that you would like to schedule a Telemedicine appointment you will be walked through some of the typical questions, but in addition that, we will also verify your email address,” explains Sholar. “You will be sent an invitation from our clinic in the form of a calendar invite so that you can easily add it to your digital calendar. The invitation contains a link to a Zoom test site that allows people who have never used Zoom to test it out and practice using the video camera, speaker and microphone on your device. Also included in this email is the link for your visit. When it’s time for your visit simply click on the link to enter our virtual waiting room. One of our receptionists will greet you, get you checked in and move you to a breakout room where you will get to meet with your provider’s nurse and then your provider When all is done we can get your prescriptions sent in, handouts emailed or mailed out to you, and arrange for any future tests or follow-up appointments. We hope the telemedicine visit has the same feel as an in-person visit.”
“Telemedicine visits will not be appropriate or possible for every patient. For those without access to internet or a camera on their phone/computer, those with complaints requiring a physical exam (like an ear ache or lump) or those who simply don’t want to see their provider through a telemedicine visit the clinic does plan to remain open for appointments that cannot be delayed,” says Sholar. “We are actively modifying the schedules with the goal to have providers available in clinic who have had a low risk of exposure to COVID-19 who will be able to see you or your family member. Please bear in mind, during this time, your provider may not be as available but we will be able to get you or your family member seen.”
Given the pandemic there have been a number of regulatory changes and Medicare has loosened the previously restrictive requirements placed on telemedicine making it a covered benefit for all beneficiaries. Medicaid in Idaho has followed suite as have most of the private insurers in our region and country. “As always, you are encouraged to contact your private or supplemental insurance’s website or contact them to verify any benefits,” says Sholar.
“We are using a version of Zoom that is HIPAA compliant, this is not a requirement of Medicare at this time, but we take the privacy of our patients very seriously,” says Sholar.
“We are excited to be able to offer this option to our patients and to continue to provide excellent medical care, even in times of crisis. The real benefit for telemedicine at this time is allowing you to stay home and avoid physical contact with others as we are trying to prevent community spread of COVID-19. The best way to end this pandemic is for people to stop moving around and stay home.”