September 2020 The onset of the pandemic has not only changed the way we go about our day-to-day activities, it has also changed the way many of us communicate through virtual means with clients, co-workers and even our doctors. For people who are at risk or high risk, going to the doctor’s office for a routine checkup or follow-up may not be as low stress as it was prepandemic. There is a silver lining amid the changes and “pivoting” that many in the health care industry have had to exercise over the last several months, and the mainstream introduction to telehealth services this year has proven to be an effective and time-efficient way for both a medical professional and patient to communicate when an in-person visit may not be necessary. Witham Offers Telehealth and Virtual Visits Witham Health Services began offering telehealth and virtual visits to its patients back in April. Telehealth allows you to talk to your physician from your mobile device or computer in the convenience and comfort of your own home. The executive director of clinical operation physician practices at Witham Health Services, Geni Klayer, spoke with me about how Witham Health pivoted quickly to meet the needs of its patients at the onset of the pandemic and how it sees integrating telehealth and virtual visits going forward. Geni Klayer “We really had to pivot on how we were taking care of patients when COVID-19 first hit,” Klayer said. “We kept our offices open, but we were very selective on who was able to come in. It took some of the other health systems a week or two to get onto a telehealth platform, but we were up and running within 72 hours, which was great for both us and our patients.” Now that the restrictions have somewhat eased up and safety protocols have been in place, Klayer shared that the feedback they’ve received from the majority of their patients has been that they want to come in for in-person visits with their health care providers. “We still have some folks that are not comfortable coming in, and so we're able to give them that option with the virtual visits,” Klayer stated. “We're doing the best we can to keep people socially distanced , and we are using the virtual visits to screen people who have potential COVID-19 symptoms. Virtual visits are also useful for routine follow-ups that don’t require an exam. So, for people on medication management whose prescription was recently changed and their doctor wants to check in to make sure their patient is doing OK, a virtual visit is ideal for that kind of follow-up.” Klayer also mentioned that for the percentage of the population that has transportation issues, virtual visits or telehealth provides a level of access to their medical providers that they may not otherwise be able to easily access in a timely manner. “Depending on what their needs are for medical care, give them a better opportunity to stay on task with their care versus not being able to get a ride and having to cancel the appointment,” Klayer added. “For folks that have issues like abdominal pain, chest pain, breathing issues, muscle/skeletal uses that may require X-rays, etc., and symptoms that you really can’t examine over the phone or during a virtual health visit, they really need to come in and have an exam. There are definite advantages with using virtual visits and telehealth, but it’s not 100% for every issue.” Does Insurance Cover Telehealth and Virtual Visits? The Public Health Emergency declaration issued by Gov. Holcomb, in short, made insurance companies cover telehealth and virtual visits. “That declaration was extended through July 25 and was extended another 90 days through the end of October,” Klayer explained. “Telehealth and virtual visits will be covered, but it’s on a case-by-case basis, so it’s not across the board.” Witham Health Services understands that navigating one’s insurance benefits can be daunting and confusing for the layman and can be confusing to even people within the health care industry. Klayer added, “While most major insurance companies are covering these visits, we are encouraging patients—whether it’s a telehealth or in-person health care visit—to know their insurance policy, know what’s covered and what’s not because there are so many plans out there.” Don’t Be Afraid of Telehealth Technology and Don’t Wait to Get Medical Care No matter your level of computer skill and regardless of what kind of smartphone experience you have, Witham Health Services’ staff and medical professionals are there to help walk you through the process. “Our staff will contact the patient and get them set up ahead of the virtual or telehealth appointment to make sure that they are able to connect and understand the process so that when it is time to visit with their physician, they already know how to connect and what to expect,” Klayer said. “Talk with your medical provider and find out what your options are and to make sure that your health care need is appropriate for a telehealth or virtual visit.” Klayer concluded, “Don’t be afraid of technology. If you have a cell phone with internet connection, we can likely get you connected with a physician. The biggest thing is—don’t wait to get health care. Give us a call, and whether it’s technology or financial issues, we can walk you through those, and we have financial assistance available. Those issues shouldn’t be barriers to health care.” Please call your physician’s office for more information on telehealth and virtual visits. For more information on Witham Health Services in general, visit witham.org.