BOONE — Appalachian Regional Healthcare System has launched a new telehealth program to ensure patients have safe, convenient access to their providers during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Through telehealth visits, patients can meet with a health care provider using a computer or mobile device from the safety of their own homes. Telehealth is most appropriate for routine visits such as simple acute care (sick visits), follow-up, wellness visits and behavioral health concerns like depression, anxiety or grief.
Appalachian Regional Medical Associates providers have been piloting the program and are pleased with the results, ARHS said. Telehealth appointments are available throughout the week during regular office hours. In-person appointments will be alternated with telehealth appointments to limit the number of patients in each office in accordance with social distancing guidelines.
“We are incredibly proud of our providers and staff for moving quickly to implement this telehealth program for the benefit of our patients,” said Dr. Danielle Mahaffey, chief physician executive. “They were asked to drastically adapt how they practice medicine, completed training and began seeing patients within 14 days.”
During the telehealth visit, if the health care provider determines that an in-person visit is needed, they will stop the virtual visit and schedule the patient for an in-person appointment. The patient and their insurance will not be billed for the telehealth visit if an in-person appointment is required.
The first ARHS providers to utilize telehealth visits were Dr. David Kimmel of Elk River Medical Associates, Dr. Lynda Gioia-Flynt of Harmony Center for Women, Dr. Jason Crawford of Baker Center for Primary Care and Dr. David Brendle of AppFamily Medicine. Since its launch, the program has expanded to about 30 providers throughout the health care system.
Dr. Steven Anderson, orthopedic surgeon at AppOrtho, has been participating in telehealth visits with his patients. Patients of all ages were easily able to log on and complete the telehealth visit.
“For a time like this, it’s a great way to communicate with patients while abiding by social distancing guidelines,” said Anderson. “There are also instances where telehealth makes sense in general, such as reviewing MRI results.” According to Anderson, every patient he has seen via telehealth has enjoyed the visit.
For Dr. Lynda Gioia-Flynt of Harmony Center for Women, telehealth is appropriate for things like medication followup, contraception counseling, procreative counseling, STD prevention and exposure counseling, postpartum depression and postoperative visits with incision checks.
“Telemedicine has helped bridge the gaps that would occur otherwise with social distancing,” said Gioia-Flynt. “If we delay too many visits, we could not only miss caring for our patients now, but also might over-burden the system later once restrictions lighten.”
“The telehealth visits felt more personal than I anticipated, and I was able to really connect with my patients well through the platform,” said Grasinger, a gynecologist at Davant Medical Clinic in Blowing Rock. “This option is safer for patient as well as staff, and patients have been happy with the visits.”
Patients will not need to download apps or software to participate. To request a telehealth visit, patients should call the office directly or request an appointment online as if they were scheduling an in-person appointment.
“While the telehealth program was launched as a way to increase access to care during the COVID-19 pandemic, we hope to continue in the future as a safe, convenient way to receive care at any time,” ARHS stated. “ARHS is continually looking for new ways to serve the community, and telehealth is the latest result of that commitment.”
How does a telehealth visit work?
The patient should call the office or request an appointment online just as if they were scheduling an in-person appointment. At the time of the visit, they will receive an email with a link and instructions for how to join the visit.
Which patients can request a telehealth visit and for what types of visits?
Telehealth visits are available for patients who do not require a physical exam. Patients must reside in North Carolina and have reliable internet access, an email address, and a device with a camera and microphone such as a smartphone, computer or tablet.
Providers can usually address the following types of issues through telehealth:
- Medication management/refill visits
- Wellness visits
- Follow-up visits
- Simple acute (sick) visits
- Upper respiratory symptoms
- Sore throat
- Urinary tract infections
- Behavioral health visits
Which practices and outpatient clinics offer telehealth options?
The following practices and outpatient clinics currently offer telehealth services. More clinics may add the service in the future. Call the office or clinic to ask about specific offerings.
- Appalachian Regional Medical Associates
- Appalachian Regional Internal Medicine Specialists (828) 386-2746
- Appalachian Regional Pulmonology (828) 386-2200
- AppFamily Medicine (828) 386-2222
- AppGastro (828) 264-0029
- AppOrtho (828) 386-2663
- Baker Center for Primary Care (828) 737-7711
- Davant Medical Clinic (828) 386-3350
- Elk River Medical Associates (828) 898-5177
- Harmony Center for Women (828) 268-8970
- Tate Clinic (828) 737-7917
- Watauga Surgical Group (828) 264-2340
- Cannon Memorial Hospital
- Appalachian Regional Outpatient Behavioral Health (828) 737-7888
- Watauga Medical Center
- The Cardiology Center (828) 264-9664