Virtual doctor’s visits available, increasing in Sikeston area
When Sikeston resident Amy Evans recently called to make a doctor’s appointment for her teenage son, she learned he could be seen through a virtual visit. “They offered the telehealth, and we were interested. We were trying to avoid going out as much as possible,” Evans said. Telehealth is defined as the delivery of healthcare services via electronic devices allowing for video and audio interactions between a patient and healthcare provider who are not in the same location. Evans said she made the telehealth appointment with their family provider with Missouri Delta Medical Center in Sikeston. “It was extremely easy and convenient,” she said. When the time came, Evans said she used her iPhone to connect with the physician’s office after they provided her with a link. She and her son found a quiet place in their home to limit distractions during the appointment.
The provider connected with them through a live chat and assessed Evans’ son by asking about his symptoms and ultimately looking at his throat through their devices. “The doctor recommended a follow-up swab for strep throat,” Evans said. Evans said she and her son drove to the clinic, which provided curbside service. “We pulled up in the front, and the nurse came out and did the swab. Fifteen minutes later, we had the results, and he had tested positive for strep throat,” she said. The physician then prescribed medication, which Evans retrieved from their local pharmacy. “It was convenient, and it kept everyone safe, and we really appreciate they are offering the services,” Evans said, adding telehealth appointments and curbside testing limits exposure for all involved. She also noted the importance of the community supporting local providers as much as they can during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with hospitals being so busy and elective procedures on the decline. “It was really convenient, super-easy to use, and I’m grateful we have the local service available to us,” Evans said.
Latina Hampton, director of operations for physician services at Missouri Delta Medical Center, said telehealth has been around, but there wasn’t really a push to offer the service to patients until the COVID-19 outbreak. Missouri Delta uses the platform, Doxy.me, to conduct its telehealth appointments. Hampton, who is a registered nurse with a master’s degree in nursing, said she conducted research and learned Doxy.me was simple to implement and user-friendly. Before offering it to patients, the hospital’s IT team conducted trial runs and worked out connectivity issues, she said.
On March 27, Missouri Delta conducted its first telehealth appointment, but it wasn’t until a few days later, around April 3, when all of its physician services and clinics were utilizing telehealth. When the COVID-19 outbreak hit the area, physicians soon began seeing less than half of the visits they normally would — and they knew patients were still in need of their physicians, Hampton said. “What was happening was people who were sick weren’t coming to see their doctors, and they were getting sicker. People weren’t going to the doctor with, for example, urinary tract infections or poison ivy, and by the time we’d see them, they were very sick,” Hampton said. Appointment volume is picking up again, Hampton said, adding the first day of telehealth use included one or two visits. Now some providers are doing 10 or more a day, she said. “We are still seeing patients in person,” Hampton said. However, Hampton said patients who are interested in the service should call their providers and ask about telehealth. Once a telehealth appointment has been made, the process is simple, she said. “Our nurses send them a link by email or text. Using the link, the patient checks in for the appointment from their device. The nurse will do patient intake and get information and updates on their medicines. Then they are put back in the virtual waiting room. The physician will open the video chat and do their part,” Hampton explained.
Other area providers are utilizing virtual visits, too. On April 2, Ferguson Medical Group announced patients can request a virtual visit with a primary care provider at any Saint Francis Medical Partner practice. Telehealth visits include: management of chronic diseases such as blood pressure, diabetes, etc.; many illnesses such as sinus symptoms, allergy symptoms and mild rashes (some visits may require a follow-up visit or lab testing); mental health management, such as mild anxiety, depression and insomnia; screening, discussion and management of possible mild COVID-19 infection; follow-up of acute illness or condition; and lifestyle coaching and management such as trying to quit smoking, lose weight and overall health improvement. Also, during the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual visits are now a covered benefit by Medicare and most insurance companies. Hampton said the benefits of using telehealth are people who need to see the doctor don’t have to come in contact with others and those who have transportation issues are still able to be seen by their doctor.
Disadvantages include connectivity issues and distance, Hampton said. “Physicians not being able to conduct physical exams of a patient limits the provider of what they can do and can’t do, such as not being able to listen to the patient’s lungs,” Hampton said. So far, both patients and providers at Missouri Delta have been happy with telehealth services, she said. “Some patients have been very positive and others are apprehensive,” she said, adding they encourage older patients or those who aren’t as tech savvy, to ask a relative or friend who usually accompanies them on appointments to help them with telehealth.
Tips for patients to make virtual visits go smoothly include: find a quiet location where video works best; be patient; weigh themselves; if they have a blood pressure machine, check their blood pressure; and if diabetic, check blood sugars. The nurses will document the information, according to Hampton. “Our physicians and staff were very happy to start virtual visits,” Hampton said. “They all agree this is a positive option that reduces the risk for unnecessary contact.”
Dr. Colleen Hunter-Pearson, who practices family medicine, prepares for a telehealth appointment with a patient from within her office Friday at the Barton-Jolly Multi-Specialty Clinic in Sikeston.
Submitted Photo/Missouri Delta