If telemedicine had not yet begun to play a significant role in your ObGyn practice, it is almost certain to now as the COVID-19 pandemic demands new ways of caring for our patients while keeping others safe from disease. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the term “telemedicine” refers to delivering traditional clinical diagnosis and monitoring via technology (see “ACOG weighs in on telehealth”).1
Whether they realize it or not, most ObGyns have practiced a simple form of telemedicine when they take phone calls from patients who are seeking medication refills. In these cases, physicians either can call the pharmacy to refill the medication or suggest patients make an office appointment to receive a new prescription (much to the chagrin of many patients—especially millennials). Physicians who acquiesce to patients’ phone requests to have prescriptions filled or to others seeking free medical advice are not compensated for these services, yet are legally responsible for their actions and advice—a situation that does not make for good medicine.
This is where telemedicine can be an important addition to an ObGyn practice. Telemedicine saves the patient the time and effort of coming to the office, while providing compensation to the physician for his/her time and advice and providing a record of the interaction, all of which makes for far better medicine. This article—the first of 3 on the subject—discusses the process of integrating telemedicine into a practice with minimal time, energy, and expense.
Telemedicine and the ObGyn practice
Many ObGyn patients do not require an in-person visit in order to receive effective care. There is even the potential to provide prenatal care via telemedicine by replacing some of the many prenatal well-care office visits with at-home care for pregnant women with low-risk pregnancies. A typical virtual visit for a low-risk pregnancy includes utilizing home monitoring equipment to track fetal heart rate, maternal blood pressure, and fundal height.2
Practices typically use telemedicine platforms to manage one or both of the following types of encounters: 1) walk-in visits through the practice’s web site; for most of these, patients tend not to care which physicians they see; their priority is usually the first available provider; and 2) appointment-based consultations, where patients schedule video chats in advance, usually with a specific provider.
Although incorporating telemedicine into a practice may seem overwhelming, it requires minimal additional equipment, interfaces easily with a practice’s web site and electronic medical record (EMR) system, increases productivity, and improves workflow. And patients generally appreciate the option of not having to travel to the office for an appointment.
Most patients and physicians are already comfortable with their mobile phones, tablets, social media, and wearable technology, such as Fitbits. Telemedicine is a logical next step. And given the current situation with COVID-19, it is really not a matter of “if,” but rather “when” to incorporate telemedicine as a communication and practice tool, and the sooner the better.
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