Will the pandemic change health care forever?

'People are learning that your doctor can see you on the phone'

A woman smiles at a doctor on her laptop screen while he smiles back

We’ve heard that common phrase “the new normal,” and we consider what that looks like for health care. The novel coronavirus pandemic has paved the way for patients to seek care in new ways.

The good news is we continue to flatten the curve, according to Jeremy Cauwels, M.D., senior vice president of clinic quality for Sanford Health. That’s a result of people staying home, washing their hands and doing their part to physically distance themselves and slow the spread.

The not-so-good news is the COVID-19 pandemic has been keeping people from seeking critical care that might be unrelated to the virus.

Video visits on the rise

Sanford has seen a significant increase in the number of video visits, with nearly 50,000 scheduled in late April, which is exactly the direction it was ultimately hoping to go.

“I would say that this was the perfect lever to teach us how to move into the 21st century with health care,” Dr. Cauwels said.

“For the longest time, all of us have been very, very used to the fact that the only way to see your doctor was to go to the doctor’s office, be evaluated by the doctor on the stool next to you. Where we’re at right now is very much that people are learning that your doctor can see you on the phone, your doctor can see you on your iPad and your doctor can do a lot of clinical things by evaluating you from a distance away, especially with the advent of cellphones and digital devices we have at our fingertips.”

Dr. Cauwels expects this concept of health care at home to grow as it becomes a more convenient way for patients and providers to connect. So far, he says it’s working well.

While he expects endocrinologists taking care of diabetics to be able to talk to someone over the phone about their blood sugars, he didn’t expect his orthopedics colleagues, for example, to have to do a majority of their work virtually and prioritize when patients need to come in for injuries or exams.

‘Technology isn’t a burden’

One of those endocrinologists is David Newman, M.D., in Fargo. He cares primarily for adults as a clinic-based specialist while also serving as medical director for informatics in the Fargo region.

“We talk on Zoom, FaceTime, SnapChat, Facebook Messenger,” Dr. Newman said. “Whatever technology the patient has, we visit.”

He said he could do just about anything via video that most patients would see him for in person at the clinic. For many of them in the Fargo region, this has saved a lot of drive time.

Patients living with diabetes are generally at a higher risk.

“I had an 87-year-old that didn’t have a smartphone. They borrowed their neighbor’s smartphone, and they were able to do a video visit that way,” Dr. Newman said.

“I’ve had several patients ask me if we can do this for our next visit even when the pandemic is over because it’s so much more convenient. I’ve had patients that get up and put on a full face of makeup for it, and I’ve had patients who roll out of bed, and five minutes later, we visit. It’s really what patients are comfortable with.”

Open for business

Clinics are among the safest places to go if you do need to visit one.

Dr. Newman continues regular appointments with patients who need to be seen in person.

“What we’re concerned about is we’re losing patients now, and there will be an influx of patients in several months that have exacerbation of chronic diseases. That’s what we’re trying to avoid by doing video visits,” he said. “Just because there’s a pandemic going on, doesn’t mean we can’t optimally control your diabetes. It doesn’t mean you have to run out of your blood pressure medications. We can do a really good job managing this chronic disease over the phone or by video visits.”

And unfortunately, even at home, people will still suffer from a stroke or heart attack, burns or broken bones.

“The worst thing we could have happen is a patient to put off something they know they needed because they were afraid of a virus they might get,” Dr. Cauwels said. “We’re ready to take care of whatever you have. It doesn’t have to be COVID.”

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Posted In Coronavirus, Healthy Living, Wellness

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