Bristol Health Medical Group doctors have begun seeing many patients using a telemedicine video service that helps limit person-to-person contact and cut down on possible exposures to the coronavirus.
"Our priority is the health and safety of our patients as well as that of our physicians, providers and staff,” said Dr. Liran Blum, chairman of the Bristol Health Medical Group Board of Directors. “In order to comply with social distancing and in an effort to ‘flatten the curve’ of coronavirus spread, our physicians and administration are working collaboratively to transition most office visits to telehealth visits.”
“At the same time,” Blum continued, “we will use telehealth as a means of triaging patients with the option of asking a given patient to come to the office for further evaluation, if warranted. We will continue to re-evaluate our processes in this ever changing COVID-19 environment so that we can continue to deliver excellent and safe care while fulfilling our patient-centered mission of 'caring today for your tomorrow.'"
Many doctors in Bristol began using the video and audio service on March 19 for patients who are either uncomfortable making an office visit or those who are sick.
“It’s keeping patients safe and the staff safe,” said Dr. Nandini Menon, a primary care physician whose office is on Bradley Street.
The telemedicine service, known as TeleVisits, was made possible by Bristol Health’s IT department and the electronic medical record provider for the Bristol Health Medical Group, eClinicalWorks.
“It’s actually very user friendly,” Menon said.
The service allows both primary care and specialty doctors to do most of what is done during a regular visit. The main exception, Menon said, is physical examinations, like looking into a patient’s ear as part of a regular check-up.
“We cannot do a full physical exam,” Menon said. “We are trying to do everything we do during a visit.”
Gina Ruthan, a senior practice administrator with Bristol Health, said individuals need to sign up for a patient portal account before using the telemedicine service. A patient services representative can help with that process. Anyone interested can call 1-833-4BHDOCS. The only other requirement is an electronic device that has a camera and a microphone, which can include a computer, tablet or cell phone.
“I think they like it,” Menon said of patients who have used the service.
Ruthan added that many insurance carriers that did not cover telemedicine visits in the past have been covering the online visits now that social distancing is being practiced amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
“That was not the case before,” Ruthan said.
Menon stressed that, while many local doctors have started using telemedicine visits regularly, in-office visits have not been eliminated. The online service is primarily for patients who are not “overly sick,” she said.
Once the coronavirus outbreak is under control, Menon said she would like to see doctors use telemedicine services more regularly. They can be helpful for elderly patients who have a hard time getting out of the house and into a doctor’s office, as well as individuals who have a hard time getting away from work, especially for simple follow-up visits.
As to whether Bristol Health would still offer the service once the outbreak has diminished, it is not yet clear.
“I think it’s too early to talk about what would happen after,” Menon said.