Care at UH Continues During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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The UH system has provided more than 86,000 virtual appointments for patients in little over a month

UH Clinical Update | April 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has scrambled health care, keeping patients away from hospitals and even appointments at doctor’s offices and ambulatory care centers. But at UH, it hasn’t kept people from getting the health care they need. Through a herculean effort across many UH departments, more than 86,000 virtual appointments with patients have taken place in little over a month.

MDLive is UH’s virtual platform of choice, but these virtual appointments in the tens of thousands have also taken place on other platforms, such as Doxy.me and Zoom. All these platforms are HIPAA-compliant.

“To allow providers to quickly start performing telehealth visits, we opened up many platforms,” says Belinda Potts, Senior Project Manager with the Department of Operational Effectiveness.

“We worked with Legal and Compliance to be sure we followed all regulatory guidelines.”

Brian Zack, MD, Medical Director of UH Telehealth, credits UH Chief Medical and Quality Officer William Brien, MD, with helping UH seize the moment with virtual care.

“He responded to the pandemic by granting our providers emergency credentialing in telehealth across the system,” Dr. Zack says. “Local community hospitals all followed Dr. Brien’s leadership granting local telehealth privileges. Throughout this period, UH Telehealth and UH Physician Services have collaborated with Legal and Compliance to ensure that virtual and remote care and platforms meet all evolving CMS and state requirements and the high standard of care expected at UH.”

As the pandemic has progressed, virtually every UH service line, from family medicine and pediatrics to the most advanced specialty care, has been providing virtual appointments for patients.

“Many of our ancillary services, such as lactation, physical therapy, speech therapy and nutrition, have adopted telehealth as well,” Dr. Zack says.

Collectively, these visits very often add up to several thousand a day. To help UH providers adapt to this method of delivering care, the telehealth team has created a SharePoint website with helpful information. Telehealth is a discipline unto itself, and it requires some training – even during a pandemic.

“We have created an educational library of materials to support our providers as they grow in this space,” says Rebecca Emmons, Digital Health Manager at UH. “This includes reference materials on how to perform a virtual visit, tips for a successful connection and appropriate environment.  The UH IT department has also developed a telehealth-focused infrastructure, including a dedicated telehealth support line to address any issues in real time. This service can be accessed by phone through UH IT Help Desk or by email at UHTelehealthSupport@uhhospitals.org.”

Other departments have also played pivotal roles in ramping up telehealth services at UH.

“Collectively, our entire provider organization has responded with flexibility, compassion and with a patient-first mindset,” says Dr. Zack. “Behind the scenes, our support service lines including IT, Revenue Integrity, Soarian Scheduling, Legal, Compliance, Marketing and UHPS Operations leadership have made these tremendous advancements possible.”

The telehealth team plans to survey patients who’ve used virtual services in the coming days. However, initial feedback to the group is that these virtual visits are well-received by both patients and providers.

“Patients have appreciated the convenience and accessibility during this frightening and sensitive time,” Dr. Zack says. “In an effort to ensure that our patients’ voices continue to be heard, Dr. Joan Zoltanski, Chief Experience Officer, is working with Press-Ganey to roll out a newly developed Telehealth Visit Survey.”

It’s hard to know if things will ever be “back to normal.” But Dr. Zack says he expects telehealth to play a prominent role in the post-pandemic “new normal” at UH.

“This pandemic has shown our patients and our providers that telehealth can be a critical piece of their total continuum of care,” he says. “After the restrictions of COVID are lifted, we expect telehealth to continue to be a significant component of UH care delivery and future growth.”

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