Even with a learning curve, online consultations have changed the way doctors provide quality care.
COVID life involves the sort of technological innovations that have compelled most Americans to increase their digital IQ—and healthcare providers are no exception. Telemedicine encompasses video conferencing, secure messaging and OG phone calls. The technology has been around since 2013, but many providers and patients stayed with in-person visits—until COVID-19 made that untenable. “A number of our patients need regular monitoring, so we moved more fully to telemedicine,” says Dr. Sharayne Mark, a cardiologist with Penn Medicine’s Chester County Cardiology Associates in West Chester and Downingtown. “With video appointments, and sometimes even just a phone call, we can get a lot done and be of service to our patients.”
Tests like EKGs need to be done in a medical setting, but many cardiology patients have their own blood pressure monitors and other home devices. Mark has patients running their own tests and reporting the results to her so she can evaluate them.
Among the challenges: cardiac symptoms can mimic COVID symptoms. Shortness of breath is particularly concerning. “In the absence of fever and cough, which are signs of COVID, we are probably looking at a cardiac situation, the severity of which needs to be determined,” says Mark. “If symptoms are severe enough, you’re going to the ER anyway.”
Poor cardiovascular health, obesity and diabetes are risk factors for severe COVID-19 illness. “Many patients are doing what they can to remain healthy despite cardiac conditions they have,” Mark says.
OBGYNs are finding that video platforms are excellent for checking on pregnant patients. Physicians can tell a lot about a baby’s status through video. “I’ve definitely been having patients stand up so I can see their bellies,” says Dr. Jennifer Gilbert of Paoli OBGYN, part of Axia Women’s Health. “I know how a belly should look at 32 or 38 weeks.”
Gilbert’s patients quickly adapted to Zoom appointments. “They actually love them,” she says, adding that video conferencing keeps the OBGYNs in her practice on a tight schedule. “There’s nothing better than seeing that Zoom clock tick down to zero.”
Gilbert urges patients not to postpone annual pelvic exams, mammograms and colonoscopies. COVID mitigation protocols are in full effect at her practice and throughout Main Line Health. As the president of Paoli Hospital’s medical staff, Gilbert is confident that the system is now well positioned to handle the pandemic. “Main Line Health has a COVID command center fully staffed with nurses and physicians, plus our infectious disease specialists have been amazing,” Gilbert says. “We’ve had time to adapt—and we have. We’re prepared for whatever comes.”