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COVID-19 forces healthcare providers to shift way of doing business

Memorial Regional Health, Northwest Colorado Health have shifted to telehealth technology in recent weeks

Northwest Colorado Health in Craig
File Photo

In these unprecedented times the world is living through, it’s forced everyone to change they way they do things daily. Local healthcare providers Memorial Regional Health and Northwest Colorado Health are no different.

In recent weeks, both healthcare providers have shifted to the ever-popular telehealth technology, allowing medical providers to have the face-to-face interactions with their patients, albeit from a safe distance through a computer screen.

From pediatrics to emergency medicine, doctors and nurses in Moffat County are taking a higher amount of calls, while seeing fewer and fewer in-person patients due to COVID-19.

Some health care providers have sophisticated telehealth systems, such as Northwest Colorado Health’s Doxy.me technology, which involves a secure, HIPAA compliant screen-to-screen conversation with features that put patient information directly onto virtual charts patients can see.

Then there’s less formal, day-to-day technology healthcare workers are using like Facetime or Zoom. Additionally, a lot can be done simply over the telephone.

Regardless of what form of technology or strategy a healthcare provider chooses, they all live under the same category of telehealth, defined as “the provision of health care remotely by means of telecommunications technology.”

Telehealth serves two purposes locally for healthcare providers: it allows doctors to still see their patients virtually, while also keeping workers safe from the potential spread of the virus.

“Our provider team continues to provide care in the best way possible for the patient,” said Stephanie Einfield, CEO of Northwest Colorado Health. “If it’s medically necessary, we’ll still see patients in person, but we’re doing the best that we can to provide the best care as possible at this time.”

Northwest Colorado Health quickly jumped on the telehealth movement shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic reached Colorado and started its spread. Memorial Regional Health later followed suit in recent weeks, adding the technology into its system, allowing patients to still see providers.

“We did a soft launch on Monday [March 30] and then really pushed it out there on Tuesday [March 31],” said Jennifer Riley, Vice President of Operations at Memorial Regional Health. “We wanted to create access for people who didn’t want to come into the clinic, or those that needed to be seen who wanted to be seen in their own home.”

A few questions that consistently pop up regarding telehealth and the use of software to meet with patients is the protection of their personal information, as well as the collection of vitals through technology.

Both Einfeld and Riley said that the providers still lean heavily on their secure, internal records systems to keep those private, and also rely on patients self-reporting vitals like temperatures during this time.

Some telehealth systems require patients to upload data from their own personal fitness trackers, but at this time Northwest Colorado Health and Memorial Regional Health are not requiring patients do that.

At first, telehealth could be seen as a skeptical way of practicing medicine, but as times evolve during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s starting to work well for providers.

Not a whole lot medically can be done through video chat software or telephone calls, but the process does allow providers to figure out rather quickly if they need to get patients into the office for in-person visits.

“Our providers can determine pretty quickly what does and doesn’t sound like something that requires setting up an appointment and getting the patient into the building,” Riley said.

“It allows us to screen from a safe distance and determine what is and isn’t problematic,” Einfeld said. “We obviously can’t test over the phone, but we have all the testing capabilities in-office right now, so we have to continue to the screening process, and this allows us to do that pretty quickly to determine if a patient needs to come in or not.”

That changing of the times has forced the two local healthcare providers to adapt to the day-to-day changes, but telehealth might not be around long after the COVID-19 pandemic is under control.

“These things are allowed now due to an 1135 waiver through medicare,” Riley said. “Typically, a doctor can’t be in his office and talking to a patient in her home, and then bill medicare that way. There are some things we can’t continue once things go back to normal, and this might be one of things Medicare won’t allow to be billed. But we’ll see what CMS [Medicare] decides after this is all done.”

Einfeld added that rules and regulations within Northwest Colorado Health will determine the viability of telehealth for Northwest Colorado Health down the line.

“In general, this experience has pushed us to be more flexible with how we can provide services,” Einfeld said. “We’re guided by what’s best for the community. I think COVID-19 has helped us prepare for future emergencies and has absolutely shined a light on the passion and abilities of our healthcare workers. “

In the end, if it is an emergency, patients are asked to call 9-1-1. If it isn’t an emergency and there’s a concern, call your primary health care provider. They will know exactly what to do.


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