Local telehealth services surge amid coronavirus crisis

Posted at 10:19 PM, Mar 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-31 22:41:34-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Virtual doctors' visits are keeping people apart but putting their medical needs front and center.

Old Dominion University has been on the forefront of this conversation for the past decade or so.

"The one thing that we want to make sure people are doing is they're providing the same standard of care through telehealth that they would if they were face to face with people," says the Associate Chair of Nursing at Old Dominion University, Carolyn Rutledge.

In a coronavirus world, more check-ups and check-ins are being done virtually through telehealth. Physicians are able to connect via webcam and go over a person's medical history and even diagnose symptoms without having to be in the same room as the patient.

"We're already losing a number of providers to the virus, so any way we can keep them separate, the better," says Rutledge.

Educators at Old Dominion University say these assessments can also be helpful for patients already in the hospital. The option of telemedicine preserves much-needed personal protective equipment, otherwise known as PPE.

"You have your gown, your gloves, your mask and your eye protection. It's very expensive, and there's not enough available. You could have one low-cost iPad in the patient's room and virtually visit them and nobody's walking in the room. So, you've saved the equipment of potentially every entry into that room on two or three or maybe five people," says Tina Gustin, Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing at ODU.

Legislation has also been passed to expand Medicare coverage to include more older patients who are benefiting from this service.

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"The change in the regulations over the last three weeks have been unprecedented, and with that change, providers have been able to use it in a much more flexible and nimble way," says Gustin.

The next hurdle is improving access in more rural communities so everyone has the opportunity to receive the best information.

Rutledge says, "From telehealth, you can actually bring the experts into the sight from wherever they are in the country."

In an uncertain time like this, technology could play a critical role in keeping providers and patients safe.

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