How telehealth can keep you healthy at home

May 21, 2020

Dr. Harper telehealth
Dr. Nick Harper has been seeing patients for telehealth appointments.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many patients had heard of telehealth but didn’t know exactly what it was or how to use it. With social distancing and stay-at-home orders in place, health care providers have recognized that telehealth is one of the easiest ways to offer care to patients who cannot safely leave their homes or don’t want to risk an office visit. Clark Memorial Health is making telehealth an optimal way for patients to get the care they need from their physicians.

Dr. Nicholas Harper is one of the physicians practicing with Clark Memorial Health who has been offering telehealth appointments using the online platform Zoom. “Over the past several weeks, I have performed Zoom visits with patients ranging in age from early 20s to late 80s,” says Dr. Harper, a board-certified internal medicine physician. “Nearly all of my patients, even those who admit to not being tech-savvy, have found the process very easy and convenient.”

Using Zoom for telehealth

Zoom is a secure, cloud-based, free application that can be used on both smartphones and computers that have a webcam. Dr. Harper’s patients first speak to office staff by phone and give permission to create a Zoom telehealth visit. Next, the Zoom appointment information is emailed to the patient. The email has a link that takes the patient directly to the Zoom website to download the meeting on a computer or directly to the Zoom application on a smartphone. Even if a person has never used Zoom before, the software offers prompts that tell the patient what to do.

Telehealth versus office visits

Patients may wonder whether they are getting the same kind of thorough care that they might if they were sitting in an examination room with their doctor. The most important feature of telehealth is that it allows the physician to both see and listen to the patient, taking note of changes in their condition, their symptoms, and medications used. “There are a variety of issues that can be addressed without having to lay hands on a patient for a complete physical exam,” Dr. Harper says.

For example, a patient who is having trouble sleeping and concentrating, feels sad, and has a diminished appetite may need an antidepressant, all of which a physician can determine through a telehealth appointment. Dr. Harper says if a person has recently begun taking a new medication and is having side effects, a physician can determine whether it is appropriate to discontinue or change the medication.

It’s not just new health issues that can be managed via telehealth. Patients with chronic conditions can be seen and helped even if they aren’t in the office, and many of them already have the devices they need in order to do this, Dr. Harper says. For example, patients with high blood pressure or diabetes may have a home monitor they can use to report readings to the physician, which can help the provider determine if medication is working properly.

Reducing the threat of COVID-19

Physicians take their patients’ health seriously, and this includes the potential impact of the novel coronavirus. “All outpatient healthcare providers are making a concerted effort not to contribute to the spread of COVID-19 by keeping in-office foot traffic as low as safely possible and keeping our patients healthy at home,” Dr. Harper says.

While there may be some instances when an office visit is warranted, a patient and his/her physician at Clark Memorial Health can determine together what the best course of action should be.

The future of telehealth

The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for many people, but increasing the rates of telehealth is a boon to both patients and physicians for a variety of reasons. With so many people both working from home and tending to children, a telehealth appointment is convenient and takes much less time. Individuals who live far away can be seen sooner, as well as those whose physical condition simply makes it a challenge to get out of the house for an office visit. For physicians and their staff, telehealth eliminates some of the stress of ensuring social distancing among patients and keeps the schedule running more smoothly.

“I believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an explosion of telehealth use in health systems where it may have never been used before,” Dr. Harper says. “It is an effective means of caring for patients in many situations while keeping them healthy at home and avoiding potentially being exposed to COVID-19.”