SIDNEY — Doctors are once again, as with years past, conducting appointments with patients from home — but by phone this time.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare professionals are offering the at home option to help reduce the spread of the virus.
Dr. Cara Wolters and other fellow physicians of Wilson Health’s Fair Road Family Medicine are now offering patients to be serviced via telemedicine or by the traditional in person method. The Sidney office, located at 1205 Fairington Drive, began the change in mid-March. The office is comprised of two doctors, a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant who service newborns to geriatric patients.
“Right now most of us at Wilson are using the telephone for any of our telemedicine services,” Wolters said by phone. “Some places have video capabilities, and we may get that, depending upon how all of this plays out, but right now we are all sticking with telephones. Everybody has got a telephone. And if there is someone of the older generation that video capability might be more difficult, the telephone seems to work for most things.”
Wolters said telemedicine existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but was only used a small percentage of the time. Her office did not previously offer the service, but with circumstances surrounding the virus, and the relaxing of the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) insurance guidelines on telehealth, the transition made sense.
“At first when we started doing it, patients didn’t know it was a thing, or how it would work,” Wolters said. “A lot of people have been grateful for that option.”
About 90% of Fair Road Family Medicine’s appointments have switched to telephone visits during this time. Each day, the office staff goes through the daily appointments to see if appointments can be postponed and if not calls to see if patients want to come into the office or “be seen” by phone. Routine visits that are not absolutely necessary are being postponed. For telephone visits, office staff instruct patients to have pertinent information ready prior to the call to ensure it is the most productive.
The following information is asked to have ready before a phone appointment visit:
• A list of written questions;
• A list of needed refills;
• An up-to-date list of current medications taken;
• A recent blood pressure measurement, for those who have their own blood pressure cuff;
• A log of recent blood sugar measurements, if the patient has diabetes.
“This helps the appointment go smoother,” she said. “What we are trying to do is keep people that aren’t emergencies out of the emergency room and the urgent care so that way the people who truly need help in that emergency and urgent situation, can get the help.”
Wolters said phone visits are basically the same as in person visits, unless a physical exam is necessary. The physician and the patient have a conversation about well-managed health conditions, or any issues or symptoms they may be experiencing, and a plan is set forth. She is also able to establish new patients over the phone.
People who call in and believe they have COVID-19 symptoms are screened with a series of questions to ensure it would not be something else such as asthma or possibly a sinus infection. If the patient meets the specific Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued criteria believed to match COVID-19, that is based up age, history and symptoms, they are sent to Wilson Health’s Urgent Care. The urgent care is located at Medical Building A on Wilson’s campus on Michigan Street. A referred patient is asked to wait in their car and call to notify urgent care staff when they arrive to help prevent the spread of the virus. Only people referred by a doctor are being tested for COVID-19.
Only if a person is experiencing extreme symptoms, such as shortness of breath to the point where they can’t breathe, and severe dizziness, Wolters said, are they told to go to the emergency room.
“Otherwise they should continue to call their primary care doctor and we can help them to triage if they should go in for testing. If we think it’s something else, we can help do a telemedicine visit and do what we can to not overwhelm the systems that are in place. We are still here seeing patients helping with what we can. But if we think they fit criteria and they need to tested, we will work with them to get tested,” she said.
Telemedicine is now being offered by family doctors, and some specialists and surgeons to help people stay at home, Wolters said. CMS has extended coverage of telemedicine services, but she recommends for patients to check with their insurance company to learn if these appointments are covered.
“We are trying make sure people know, your Family Medicine offices are still open and we are trying to help as much through this and keep everybody safe and at home,” Wolters said. “We are all in this together to stay at home and try and flatten the curve. It’s, what can we all do to help everybody else beat this coronavirus or get to where it’s safe again to resume some fashion of normal life.”
Wolters is accepting new patients and can be reached at Family Medicine at 937-492-8431.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.