As we address a new “normal” in the midst of COVID-19, medical professionals all over the country are continuing to implement creative measures to stay in touch with patients and provide the high quality, excellent care they are accustomed to.
Denver Sallee, III, MD, Pediatric Cardiologist and Chief Financial Officer at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology, describes telemedicine as a new generation component of the broader category of “telehealth.” Telemedicine employs audio plus video to establish a two-way appointment with a healthcare provider to get clinical care.
Dr. Sallee envisions using lessons learned from telehealth during COVID-19 to provide highly specialized cardiac care following the pandemic to children throughout Georgia through the Aorta and Vascular Program, the Syncope Clinic and the Arrhythmia Clinic. Telemedicine would allow patients to have cardiac testing done in local clinics, and then complete their visits with a Sibley pediatric cardiologist via a virtual telemedicine visit, reducing the need to travel long distances for follow-up appointments.
With the pandemic, a lot of sub-specialty and primary care visits are now being conducted virtually,” Dr. Sallee said. “As people become more comfortable with this method of patient care, it will help the technology take off, and I think it will continue as a way to provide follow-up services to patients after this is over.”
Sibley has chosen to use the Microsoft Teams application to conduct virtual visits because it is HIPAA-compliant and provides a private audio-video connection between provider and patient. When families call in to make an appointment during the pandemic, a Sibley doctor reviews the patient’s chart to determine if they could be seen virtually. If so, registration is done as usual by the front office, and they obtain a preferred email address to use for the telemedicine appointment invitation. The parent is sent a link to a private appointment and instructions to join as a guest.
Dr. Sallee said there are some surprising positive benefits of using telemedicine with small kids.
“They are very used to doing FaceTime with relatives,” Dr. Sallee said. “Where they may be frightened of the doctor’s office or uncomfortable around strangers in the office, they will come right up to the phone and talk to you during a virtual appointment. It lessens any stranger anxiety, and it also allows us see how they interact in an environment that’s more comfortable for them.”
The use of telemedicine also prompts more people to interact with My Chart, the electronic medical record of each patient. Discharge summaries that would usually be handed to the parent after an in-person appointment can now be accessed using My Chart, which is a step Sibley doctors have always encouraged to facilitate communication and education.
Unlike exams in the office, a virtual exam is limited to visual inspection. If the family has a blood pressure cuff or pulse oximeter at home, parents can check their child’s vital signs during the virtual appointment. Doctors can also do a visual, age-appropriate exam completing most of the evaluation with the assistance of the parent and/or patient. If the doctor is concerned about a child’s breathing or eating patterns, he or she can make a swift determination to have the child seen in a clinic or at the emergency room.
For annual follow-up appointments where the child does not need to be seen in person but will require extra cardiac testing, the patient can be placed on a virtual waiting list so the testing can be completed when appointments open up again. Dr. Sallee anticipates that Sibley will expand clinic hours and potentially add Saturday hours to help relieve the backlog of patients waiting for testing.
In the meantime, telemedicine is helping families and Sibley staff reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19, and providing a convenient, easy-to-access way to provide healthcare.
Many parents have enjoyed the telemedicine experience and appreciate not having to bring their child — and possibly siblings — into the office during this time.
Patient Families Share their Experiences
“The app was extremely easy to use, and we were set up when the doctor called. I really liked that, and I took the weight off my shoulder from having to go out. The doctor was very thorough and understanding. He had an answer for everything we asked. The nurses were great as well. I’m just overwhelmed with how much experience and patience they had.” – JC Martin
“We loved it. The app was very easy to use. It was great because we do have a Dalton location, but when you have other children with all of this going on, it was so nice to not have to go into the office.” – Katie Farmer
“Got all the questions answered that we needed. The app was really easy to use!” – Isabela Lopez
For more information about Sibley Heart Center Cardiology and our pediatric cardiology specialists, click here.