An Ob/Gyn who has delivered thousands of babies, David Billings, MD, is used to having a busy waiting room at his office at Health Center – Town & Country. But these days, except for a handful of patients who need to be seen in person, most of his patient visits are virtual.
Dr. Billings, who also serves as Chief of Surgery, is among dozens of providers across Trinity Health’s system who are using telehealth as a means of caring for patients amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It started with the need for social distancing and health authorities urging us to cancel as many non-essential appointments as possible, ” Dr. Billings explained. “We also found that some patients were reluctant to come to the clinic because they didn’t want to risk being exposed, so we quickly ramped up our telehealth program.”
Now, instead of delaying the lion’s share of appointments with Trinity Health providers, many patients are given the option of accomplishing them telephonically or via telehealth. Some are phone only visits, but the majority are interactive video (face-to-face). According to Dr. Billings, the transition has been seamless.
“The process we use is that I go through the schedule. Patients who want to keep their appointments will receive a call to see if they have some kind of device like a notebook iPad, phone, or computer. If they say yes, we can have them download the app and get signed up. It’s a free app that you can download from the App store; it’s very easy for patients.”
Naturally, not every health issue can be handled via telehealth, and that’s fine. “There are things we can’t do,” Billings said. “If a patient is experiencing pain or if something is going on that requires a physical exam, we’ll bring that patient into the office. But for other matters – whether it’s dealing with concerns, questions, or refilling medications, we don’t necessarily need an in-person exam.”
All telehealth visits are recorded in a patient’s health record – the same as with an in-person appointment, and yes, there is a charge for a telehealth visit.
“I see this as in important option for patients, especially those who don’t want to leave the house or can’t,” Dr. Billings said, adding, “It’s especially beneficial to patients who live in rural areas. Already I’ve had a telehealth visit with a patient who had an issue that led to a consult with a subspecialist at Mayo Clinic, which was also done electronically.”
The obstetrician/gynecologist says he doesn’t see telehealth going way, even after concerns about COVID-19 have faded.