April 2020. COVID-19 had spread world-wide and the U.S. implemented dramatic societal changes to try to stem the spread of infections and limit fatalities. In many states, including Indiana, authorities encouraged people to stay home except for the most essential of purposes.
That was the backdrop Karla Booher found herself in when she prepared for her regularly scheduled physician visit with her doctor, Ana Priscu, MD, an endocrinologist specializing in diabetes and metabolism at Franciscan Diabetes & Endocrinology Specialists Indianapolis. A type I diabetic, Karla has seen Dr. Priscu regularly for years to evaluate her blood sugar and other vitals, and discuss her activity levels, symptoms and any other concerns. Her relationship with Dr. Priscu, and their regular in-person checkups, had helped Karla keep her diabetes in check.
Now with life in the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her trusted physician would be counting on computer technology to help them complete their vital quarterly appointment.
"I heard from doctor's office that they could not see patients, so they prepared me for a virtual visit using Telehealth on my computer," Karla said. "They coached me on how to log in and get started, and I had to take my own vitals to report to Dr. Priscu."
(Karla had worked as a volunteer EMT in the past so was comfortable taking and reporting her vitals to Dr. Priscu and her staff.)
"The visit went as well as could be expected given it was our first time," Karla said. "It was hit and miss until we worked through the kinks. We also exchanged messages on MyChart, which also was a big help."
"I'm not a technical person, and I’m glad that with my most recent appointment, I could go back to doctor's office," she said. "But the virtual visit helped me and Dr. Priscu stay on top of my condition and ensured that I didn't experience a gap in her care. For many others, who don't have the time or ability to get to the doctor's office, I can see where a virtual visit can be a great benefit."
Make Your Virtual Visit A Success
If you choose to have a virtual visit with your physician or other provider, allow us to recommend taking a few simple steps to ensure the best experience:
- Register for MyChart account with Franciscan. This is a must as it connects you, your healthcare provider and your essential health information. Go to FranciscanMyChart.org to sign up.
- In preparation for your Virtual Visit, find a quiet secluded location where you will not be interrupted.
- Be sure you have adequate lighting so that you can be seen clearly on screen.
- If you have items to be completed for your virtual visit – such as taking your temperature or other vitals – do so ahead of time so you can keep your meeting on track.
- If you have questions for your provider, write them down ahead of time so that you can cover them efficiently during your call.
- Finally, always remember to use your MyChart app to keep apprised of your latest test results, order prescription refills or communicate with your care team, even after the virtual visit is complete.
Video, Phone Visits Boom
One of the most remarkable transformations brought about by COVID-19 was the dramatic increase in the use of computers, personal communications devices (smart phones, tablets, etc.) and the MyChart app to complete physician visits remotely. Since January 1, Franciscan doctors and other clinicians have completed more than 112,000 video visits and 92,000 phone visits with patients - and the vast majority of those since March when the pandemic’s impacts were first felt.
"Pre-COVID, we had one department, pharmacotherapy, live on virtual visits with a few others waiting for us to fine tune the process," says Carrie Watkins, director, digital engagement. "Now we have all of our primary care offices and some of our hospital outpatient departments using virtual technology."
The technology is tightly configured with the patient's electronic medical record and the Epic MyChart app. At first, this relationship made the move to virtual more complicated. After six months of practice under COVID-19, workflows have been improved and a massive education program has helped providers, office staff and patients make better use of the virtual health workflows and technologies.
"Working with patients, it is important that they receive detailed information about what to expect," Watkins says. Provider offices put processes in place to contact patient ahead of their virtual visits to help them understand next steps and ensure they had the right technology to support a virtual visit. Those processes we developed were key to our success.
"Franciscan has seen a significant increase in MyChart activations since the beginning of the pandemic. Additionally, there has been a marked increase in the use of MyChart for all manner of patient/provider messaging and patient-entered clinical data, in addition to virtual visits. These are important features that allow patients to say in contact with their providers even in trying times."
Discussing the future for Franciscan digital, Sri Bharadwaj, vice president, digital innovation and applications, states: "We are moving into an era where technology plays a part in all that we do. In the future, we will be using technology to bring in data directly from devices that our patient use termed as Remote Patient Management. This powerful solution allows the care team to review data and intervene appropriately even before there is a need for the patient to be seen by a physician. These are the some of the innovations that are planned for patients in the near future."
By Dan McCarthy