Eric Wilcox, D.O., Family Medicine Specialist for Rochester Regional Health, Rochester, NY
In January 2018, Rochester Regional Health began to pilot video visits at our family medicine practice located on the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) campus. The new program was novel, promising, and limited. We enthusiastically participated, seeing 10-20 patients per month and laying the groundwork for how we can use telemedicine to improve access while maintaining our standards of care, service, and continuity.
Of course, like so many other health care providers, early 2020 is when telemedicine made the overnight jump from a promising experiment to a lifesaving protocol. By March of that year, with in-person ambulatory care paused in the early days of the pandemic, our practice had to shift to 100 percent video visits. While many patients can reschedule a simple well-visit, appointments to manage chronic disease or triage potentially serious conditions should not have to wait. Video visits are what helped us bridge that gap.
As in-person care began to reopen, video visits remained in demand. So many providers now agree—telemedicine has become an irreplaceable tool—providing convenience, access for those without transportation, and a way to keep patients who are at risk of severe COVID symptoms safely at home.
A New Challenge
In the early months of the pandemic, video visits became the norm and have proven they are here to stay, even when we return to times of lower COVID transmission. However, this new level of access comes with new risks and responsibilities for both patients and caregivers.
As we move forward, in-person visits may not always be necessary, but personal relationships with your primary care provider are more important than ever. In an era when misinformation is increasingly rampant, you need a doctor you can trust—someone who knows you and your history and who will advise you with your best interest in mind.
Primary care providers are in a unique position to develop this technology and optimize use while keeping patient benefits at the forefront. Physicians, clinical staff, and IT professionals share a new charge: to use telemedicine to enhance access and help grow relationships between in-person visits. We must do this and, in the process, create a patient experience easier and more positive than what was available before the pandemic.
Physicians and clinical staff are responsible for treating every video visit with the same care, compassion, and personal touch as every in-person visit. However, that is just the first step. We must also remain students of this new technology,because our comfort with emerging telemedicine tools will allow us to focus on our patients during these interactions. Our understanding of these tools is also what will allow us to innovate and discover ways to make the experience easier and more valuable for our patients.
We need our partners on the IT side to continue to make the technology increasingly intuitive, understandable, and accessible for our patients. For this technology to have long-term success, it has to make patients’ lives easier and allow them to manage their health more effectively.
Even before the pandemic, we all had patients with personal barriers to health care. Lack of transportation, inability to leave home, and demanding work or family obligations are just some of what we can overcome with telemedicine technology, if used with a patient-first approach.
Part of delivering excellent health care is making the process easy, and after two years of historic adversity, we can take what we’ve learned to make things easier for our patients for years to come.