A doctor is just a click away thanks to telemedicine and as the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm the U.S. healthcare system, the option for remote health services is in demand.
At Chen Senior Medical Center in North Miami Beach, Dr. Elizabeth Vilches-Olivera has been using the digital system to connect and consult with patients like 79-year-old Selma Litter.
“We were anticipating this a couple of weeks ago so we started transitioning 90 percent of our patients to telemedicine. And leaving only 10 percent for those that really need to come in that are not associated to respiratory symptoms," Vilches-Olivera said.
Telemedicine is a way for patients to virtually meet with a physician through their phone, computer or tablet. If a patient has symptoms of COVID-19, the provider can reach out to the Florida Department of Health for guidance in the next steps and help the patient contact emergency services or a nearby hospital if necessary.
While tele-health has been around for some time, doctors we spoke with said this technical tool is helping reduce the risk to seniors while keeping those trusted relationships with their patients.
“It’s basically with the whole idea to keep the patients and the doctors safe too. So it works both ways and our idea is to deliver the same level of care to the patients that we were delivering when we were seeing them here in the clinic. We’re available to you 24/7,” said Vilches-Olivera.
In response to concerns over COVID-19, the Trump administration enacted an emergency order expanding tele-health free of cost to those who have Medicare.
“During the period of this emergency declaration we are waiving those copays. If a patient is talking over Skype, using tele-health and talking to their provider, they won’t be billed for their portion of the bill,” said Seema Verma, an administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Verma also mentioned that they are temporarily relaxing some HIPAA privacy restrictions about using FaceTime, Skype and other everyday programs to conduct telemedicine.
Doctors who spoke with NBC 6 said telemedicine does have some limitations as there are no physical exams. In some specific health cases, it is still advised to see a doctor in person.