Telemedicine appointments are now available via Neighborhood Family Practice (NFP).
A telemedicine appointment allows a patient to utilize video and/or audio to meet with an NFP provider virtually or remotely.
Originally, say officials from NFP, restrictions made it difficult for urban providers to offer telemedicine.
“A lot of focus has been expanding this broadband to rural areas,” says NFP’s Assistant Medical Director of Medical Informatics Chad Garven, MD. “It was originally used to get access to more rural patients…”
However, in light of COVID-19, things have changed― and fast.
“What happened in mid-March is, it became alarmingly clear that just about any in-person interaction is going to be not only unsafe for patients, but potentially for our staff.”
As officials at NFP began looking at how a digital platform could work for them, laws in place regarding telemedicine changed as well.
“The laws became a lot less restrictive. There was not a distance qualifier, as far as ‘could the provider be near a patient but on a virtual platform?’ That was one of the ones that made a lot of sense for our urban population, particularly where our clinics are located,” says Garven.
“It was a combination of safety concerns but then sort of our mission, which is to care for this near-West Side that otherwise often goes uncared for or underappreciated. We said we have to do something. And by virtue of necessity, sort of jumped at that opportunity.”
“We completed a strategic plan about six months ago,” says NFP President and CEO Jean Polster. “We looked at telemedicine and what we were really thinking about is that the laws were super restrictive in terms of being able to bill for telemedicine.”
“We were thinking about it more as how are we going to get patients connected with specialty care? And maybe ways that they would be able to stay in our offices but still see a specialist because our patients are most comfortable in our location.”
In July reimbursement opened up, says Polster, loosening some of those restrictions. But even then, she says, restrictions still remained when it came to urban vs. rural access.
“I just have to give a shout out to the handling of the crisis by our Governor DeWine and his director of the Department of Health Dr. Amy Acton. One of the first things they did, when they saw this happening, is, not only did they open up the ability to do remote access for appointments― and not only for behavioral health, which is really where there had been the most telehealth in the state going on prior― but they just threw all the regulations aside and said go for it. Serve your patients in the best way that you can.”
It was about helping patients while maintaining their safety, which meant keeping them out of public spaces as much as possible.
“Within a week we were able to develop these applications and teach folks how to use some of the applications,” says Polster. “But it was a pivot. It took us a week to make the pivot and it would have taken us months, if not years, to make that pivot in a non-crisis situation.”
According to Garven, around 90-percent of NFP visits are now telemedicine based.
“It is a video platform and it visually looks like what a Facetime or Skype or Zoom call would look like,” he says.
Many of the telemedicine health processes are the same as an in-office visit. There is a registration process, and a medical assistant will talk to the patient about their medications and acute issues.
It is also convenient, as there is no driving to the facility or hanging out in the waiting room.
“The no show rate has rapidly declined,” says Garven.
“We are excited to accept new patients,” says Polster. “We definitely want to serve more people in the community. We do have the capacity to serve more people, and we are able to do appointments on a same-day basis. We welcome new patients and hope that we can keep more community members healthy and safe at this time.”
“We do have some face-to-face visits available when it’s urgent,” Polster adds. “If we are very concerned about something we are seeing, we are bringing you in the office. Or if there’s care that you need that can only be delivered in person, like a shot, like a birth control monthly shot, we’ve created an environment that’s safe for folks to come in― widely spaced; only certain hours. We’re giving people access to the care that they need. Most of it is delivered while you’re still in your home but if things are needed, we do have the ability to see you safely in six locations.”