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"This is a curve we don't want to flatten." Local telemedicine calls rise as patients keep social distance

Doctors believe the rise in Telehealth could be a game changer in how people are treated.

As social distancing guidelines remain in effect during the COVID-19 pandemic, patients are turning more to video conferencing visits with their doctors to avoid person-to-person contact.

The video practice, called telemedicine or Telehealth, is growing "exponentially" at hospitals in South Central Pennsylvania. At Penn State Hershey Medical Center, most visits prior to COVID-19 were related to urgent care, according to Chief Medical Information Officer Dr. Chris DeFlitch. Now, though, doctors are screening everything from potential COVID-19 symptoms, to routine checkups, to visits dealing with patients who have ALS. 

"This is a curve we do not want to flatten," DeFlitch said of the rise in Telehealth calls. "It won't replace everything. If we need to do a physical examination in the same room together, we'll need to have that traditional interaction. There are situations though where Telehealth can be a major advancement."

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AT UPMC Pinnacle, Dr. Carleen Warner says most of their telemedicine calls in the past week have been COVID-related. Most of the time, she says, when a patient calls in concerned they have COVID-19 symptoms, a doctor can talk them through their conditions without anyone leaving their home. 

Pinnacle has seen a huge increase in telemedicine calls, Warner says. In the week of April 5-11, she says providers did 4,278 ambulatory virtual visits, along with 443 inpatient calls. 

"We had a 90 percent increase from the week before," Dr. Warner says. "There's always something good that comes out of something bad, and our use of telemedicine is going to be one of those good things."

In an effort to meet the growing demand for telemedicine, Central Penn College in Enola, Cumberland County is offering a 5-week online course focused on Telehealth. According to a press release, the class will go over:

  • Telehealth as a mode of healthcare delivery
  • Rules, regulation and risk management for telehealth
  • Best clinical practices, including the role of a telehealth facilitator
  • Telehealth assessment – how to determine if telehealth is working effectively for patients and healthcare providers in practice
  • Telehealth challenges and solutions in the era of COVID-19

“Our hope is that this course will assist healthcare professionals to effectively and efficiently deliver telehealth services through the implementation of best practices,” said Dr. Krista Wolfe, who played an instrumental role in creating and designing the course. She has earned several certificates in telehealth theory and best practices.

For more information about the non-credit Telehealth certificate course or to sign up, visit www.centralpenn.edu/telehealth.