Telehealth thrives, health care missions continue despite social distancing

Telehealth’s moment has arrived in the midst of the coronavirus. (WTOP/Kristi King)

Telehealth’s moment has arrived, and D.C.-area patients are embracing virtual visits with medical providers to get evaluated, diagnosed and treated for common ailments and potentially get coronavirus testing referrals.

“In the previous two weeks, we’ve seen a tremendous shift in patient care from in-person to virtual visits, which include video, phone and secure messaging,” said Marisa Lavine, spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente’s mid-Atlantic region, which includes D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Virtual visits represented less than 25% of the group’s visits just over two weeks ago.

“Last week, we transitioned to more than 60% of our visits being conducted virtually,” Lavine said.

That translates into 19,000 virtual visits the week of March 8, for example, compared to 40,000 the week of March 15.

Virtual visits were promoted Wednesday during a D.C. government news conference on coronavirus-related developments.

MedStar similarly offers a virtual option.

“The MedStar Health eVisit is a faster, easier way to see a medical provider for basic, express care needs,” D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said Wednesday.

MedStar’s eVisit is available 24/7 to patients in the D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia. Appointments aren’t required.

“Based on the outcomes of the eVisit, patients may be referred for COVID-19 testing from an e-visit provider to one of MedStar Health’s testing sites with a physician’s order,” Nesbitt said.

Numbers of local providers, such as the Inova Health System and Adventist HealthCare, offer telehealth.

Based in Maryland, “Adventist HealthCare is offering telehealth so our community can still see a doctor safely from home,” spokeswoman Betty Klinck said.

To be clear about coronavirus test referrals, Klinck stressed that tests are being reserved for those who require hospitalization.

“Adventist HealthCare only has COVID-19 testing for critically ill patients who are likely to need hospitalization,” Klinck said. “This policy aligns with guidance from the CDC and the state of Maryland. We are supportive of work by our local and state officials to create community testing sites that will preserve our Emergency Departments resources for those with injuries or illnesses requiring hospital-based care.”

In Northern Virginia, the Inova Health System is actively working to convert a majority of patient visits to virtual visits if clinically appropriate.

“By opting to complete their visit via video or telephone, patients will not have to delay getting care they need and when they need it,” Inova spokeswoman Tracy Connell said.

As for coronavirus testing referrals that might result from virtual visits, Connell said patients “can receive an order and will be directed to one of our designated respiratory illness clinics for testing. The provider will send the order to that clinic.”

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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