By Kristi King
Virtual doctor visits have just passed a milestone in the D.C. area — MedStar Health has had more than 500,000 telehealth interactions since the coronavirus pandemic began in the U.S. in March.
“The month of February (2020), we had 270 video visits total with patients in their homes. So that half-million number of video visits is just an astronomical kind of expansion from a year ago,” said Dr. Ethan Booker, an emergency room physician and the medical director of the MedStar Telehealth Innovation Center and MedStar eVisit.
At its peak, MedStar Health was doing more than 4,500 video visits a day during the pandemic.
About 400,000 of the telehealth experiences have been scheduled, for example, with primary care doctors, cardiologists or psychologists. And Booker said some 43,000 have been on-demand, urgent care telehealth appointments mostly related to COVID-19 and people’s concerns about symptoms or about getting tested.
“And making the connection between the at-home experiences of reaching out for help and then navigating to the right person for an in-person test, navigating that entire experience is something we have learned how to do,” Booker said.
Some 150,000 telehealth participants filled out surveys, with most offering positive feedback.
“They like this and they want this to be an option for them going forward,” Booker said. “Not that they would do this for everything.”
Booker said virtual visits are not appropriate for all appointments, but they can complement doctor-patient relationships.
They have proved valuable helping hospitalized patients interact with family at home and to help family consult with doctors. They’re used for palliative care, including chaplain visits between area MedStar hospitals.
Booker said the potential is enormous for telehealth’s future.
It’s only within the past 50 years or so that medical care has become so hospital- and doctor-office-centric.
Booker sees video visits with doctors entering patient’s homes virtually as somewhat of a back-to-the-future experience. It can be helpful, too. If, for example, someone forgets what medications they’re taking, they can just pop over to the medicine cabinet and answer related questions immediately.
Even after the pandemic, Booker expects telehealth will remain popular.
“Many patients will not want to go back to getting in their car, fighting traffic and finding parking, going into the office, and spending half the day for a doctor’s appointment.”