Telehealth gains popularity as people stay home

FINGER LAKES–For many Finger Lakes residents, the need to visit a doctor hasn’t dissipated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many local providers are now offering remote doctor visits on smartphones, tablets and computers equipped with a microphone and camera. Telehealth is a phrase that has been around for decades, but where services were previously offered over the phone, patients and doctors can now see one another in person in real-time using technology.
“We are certainly doing more of (telehealth visits) right now, it is a very good alternative that we have adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic while we are encouraging people to stay home,” said Andre Forcier, chief administrative officer of Finger Lakes Health which includes Soldiers and Sailors Hospital in Penn Yan.
To do telemedicine the patient has to have a smartphone or mobile device like an iPad or a computer with a camera and a microphone. “That’s all they need, and an internet connection,” Forcier said.
While not appropriate for every kind of appointment, especially ones that require a doctor to touch a patient, Forcier said that all patients in the Finger Lakes Health system are being encouraged to call ahead of visits to urgent care or primary care to see if telehealth is a viable option for the patient.
“A telehealth visit with a doctor falls under the same classification as an in-person visit,” Forcier said. “It works very well for issues such as rashes, colds and coughs.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has strongly encouraged providers to embrace telehealth in the short-term, it has also forced them to consider long-term applications as well.
“I believe going forward this is going to be part of the new normal in healthcare for Schuyler and the greater United States,” said Michelle Benjamin, executive director for community relations with Schuyler Hospital.
Forcier agreed, and added as wearable technology becomes more prevalent doctors will be able to access more diagnostic information remotely as time goes on.
Interest for the service hasn’t just come from doctors, but from patients due to a myriad of concerns that go beyond the current pandemic.
“Certainly people are either wanting to stay at home or don’t travel because they don’t want to be around sick people, COVID or not,” said Benjamin. “Telehealth helps everyone feel safe and get what they need if they just have some questions or need a follow-up appointment. We are very excited to be able to offer the service and we have been getting more and more interest from our patients.”
With large areas of Yates and Schuyler in rural and somewhat isolated areas, Forcier said telehealth makes sense for many Finger Lakes residents.
“Consider someone who lives in Yates County, instead of driving to Geneva where our urgent care is located they can get most visits done from the comfort of their home,” Forcier said, adding, “Telemedicine has been around for quite a long time and been used in areas where there are physician shortages. Really, what it does is it increases access for people to have care that they normally wouldn’t have and it is convenient for them not to have to drive long distances. It is convenient for the patients.”
Both Forcier and Benjamin said the system used for remote visits is intuitive and simple to use.
“You will get an email for when your appointment will take place with a link you click on five minutes before the appointment starts and that’s it,” said Benjamin.
Once the link is clicked on you will be asked to grant permission to the website to use your microphone and camera, click yes, and then it should start automatically, Benjamin said.
Forcier described an identical system and added it has been certified and declared secure under the statutes set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
In Yates County, Forcier said patients for the Dundee Family Health Center, Preemption Family Medicine in Penn Yan, Keuka Health Care also in Penn Yan and the Finger Lakes Health urgent care center in Geneva can all use telehealth alternatives.
In Schuyler, Benjamin said Cayuga Health is offering telehealth options for patients at the Montour Falls Primary Care Center as well as the family practice, the Payne Clinic near Schuyler Hospital and the Ovid Primary Care Center.
“All of our specialists come over from Cayuga Medical associates and they also offer telemedicine when appropriate, orthopedics, oncology, ear nose and throat, cardiology where appropriate. It has been going really well,” Benjamin said.
For patients who still feel they need an in-person visit, Benjamin said Schuyler, and other Cayuga Medical affiliated facilities, are working hard to make sure it is as safe as possible for everyone involved.
“I do want to let people know that as a hospital we are taking the pandemic very seriously, obviously we are doing regular cleaning and disinfecting on top of that, everyone on staff and who comes in our facility must go through a screening process to check them for symptoms and check their temperature,” Benjamin said. “So if you are looking for outpatient service, x-rays, rehab service or if you feel you need to go to primary care, it is as safe as we can make it as this time. But if you aren’t comfortable please use the telemedicine services, either way, we are open for business ready to help people.”