Outpatient visits: Technology can benefit advanced healthcare

PhD.Jeff Mackin

Spokesman comments

As the COVID-19 pandemic fades from the front-page news, Spokane appears to be struggling to return to more routine days and more routine healthcare. Many people have put off nursing care during the pandemic. Demand has rebounded as people return to their doctor’s offices to catch up on routine healthcare needs such as cancer screenings, minor surgeries, health checks and immunizations.

Today, getting care means more than making an appointment and driving to the doctor’s office. In fact, many of your health needs can be addressed at home through something called “telemedicine”—a convenient way to get care from just your mobile device or computer.

Learn about telehealth

As your care needs increase, it’s important to understand your options. In addition to making a direct face-to-face appointment with your primary care provider, there are many different access points available to get the care you need.

One of the most important things you can do is improve the ease of access and communication between you and your healthcare team, either by leveraging technology or developing some level of computer literacy or smartphone access if needed. These devices allow you to access your medical records, reorder medications, view test results and send messages to your healthcare team through a secure portal.

It’s important to understand that your primary care provider doesn’t “leave.” You can have face-to-face appointments even if you also use technology and virtual health. It is still important to schedule an annual health visit to contact and review your comprehensive healthcare needs.

Telehealth appointments can help you save travel

A growing number of providers are offering telehealth, which includes an online chat with your healthcare team and a phone or video appointment with your provider. For older adults, telehealth means not having to drive or take transportation to every appointment and being able to stay home when mobility is limited. Most of these services can be accessed using any smartphone or tablet such as an iPad, in addition to a computer.

Suppose a patient has a minor fall at home that, luckily, only injures her hip muscles. For example, after an ER visit to examine and treat a minor injury, follow-up might be an in-person visit to the primary provider, review of ER notes and X-ray reports in electronic records, and then another video or phone check-in with the provider.

It may include a referral for physical therapy. After an initial assessment with a physical therapist, she may have the option of an in-person visit or physical therapy at home and a telehealth visit with a therapist. She also has online access to her exercise program and links to videos showing how to do it.

Video and phone appointments can include questions about minor illnesses like the flu, regular check-ups with specialists like a pulmonologist, or questions about medications from your primary provider. You can even ask a dermatologist to view moles or spots via video or photos sent via a safety message and advise if you need to check in person. Starting telehealth can be faster and more convenient, especially for older adults who may need to arrange transportation to get in.

Many mental health services now also offer telehealth options. Some providers also have online ordering and mail order or delivery prescriptions. Learn about the services your supplier offers.

For those with limited technical access or know how, using a healthcare tech platform is often straightforward once set up, so it’s worth asking a son, daughter, or friend to help you and show you how in the first place. You can also ask your provider if they have any support or assistance with techniques such as self-check tools available during the online scheduling process.

Electronic health records to coordinate all your care

If you are part of a system that uses electronic medical records, in most cases, clinicians have easy access to your medical data, including laboratory results, immunizations and screenings, and visits with specialized providers.

Your primary care nurses and medical assistants can make sure your vaccinations are up to date, order and map the appropriate labs in advance for an upcoming appointment, or order needed cancer screenings, all without having to communicate with your provider face to face – face to face. Records of services you get outside your primary care office, including emergency rooms and services such as colonoscopies or bone density tests or breast cancer screenings, should be included in your electronic records and your primary provider can be in one place visit them.

If you are in the healthcare system, records from labs, pharmacies and other providers may be transferred and automatically provided to your healthcare team, if not, you will need to follow up and ask outside providers to ensure records are shared. This provides healthcare providers with comprehensive information to make decisions and can improve the safety and quality of your care.

Apps and online platforms make care easier

Many healthcare systems have a secure web portal or smartphone app where you can get your own personal login information to access healthcare. For example, on our system, you can view your health records and reminders, set appointments and refill medications. For non-urgent questions, you can usually send a secure private message to your healthcare provider and expect a response within about a day.

You’ll need to set up a login account, and for people with less technical knowledge, it can be helpful to have someone show you the tools.

What we ultimately want is for patients to be successful in achieving their health goals, whatever that may be for you. Using technology can help you get the best care in a timely and effective manner to ensure you stay happy and healthy as the years go by.

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