Thomas Jefferson University Hospital has offered telemedicine through the JeffConnect® service since 2015. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the service averaged 40 to 60 scheduled daily visits. During the pandemic, it reached more than 3,000 per day system wide – giving patients and providers firsthand experience with this method of care delivery.
“Jefferson Health prepared for a worst-case scenario of a local pandemic that could leave our healthcare workers quarantined, sick or absent,” says Judd Hollander, MD, Professor of Emergency Medicine and Associate Dean for Strategic Health Initiatives, Sidney Kimmel Medical College. “By converting scheduled office visits to telemedicine visits, we enabled our clinicians to continue caring for established, nonexposed patients. We also used our telemedical services to triage patients exhibiting potential COVID-19 symptoms.”
Even before the pandemic, the Department of Surgery’s use of telemedicine was already on the rise, according to Director of Clinical Operations, Andrea DelMastro. She notes that providers were easily attaining the Departmental goal of 700 visits per year. As of May 27, 2020, the year-to-date number already exceeds 2,900.
DelMastro notes that in the past, surgeons sometimes remarked that the technology was difficult to use, and making a phone call was the easier choice. “Now the technology has improved and made it much easier and more convenient for both patients and providers,” she says.
With telemedicine visits, both patients and clinicians can stay safely at home, greatly limiting travel and exposure while enabling uninterrupted care. And unlike a traditional phone call, telemedicine enables providers to hear and see patients, which can be helpful especially when conducting post-op appointments.
Karen Chojnacki, MD, Program Director, General Surgery Residency and Vice Chair for Education, conducted telemedicine visits almost exclusively in March, April and early May. The only patients seen in the office were emergencies or those with post-operative complications.
“Now I am seeing about half of patients as telehealth visits. In fact, I have scheduled several patients for surgery having only met them virtually,” she says. “I meet them for the first time in person right before surgery. I find that very unusual, but patients seem very comfortable with it.”
Will this surge in adoption lead to enduring change? Dr. Hollander thinks it could: “Like every other new challenge, you have to try telemedicine to get comfortable with it. We have found it takes 12 to 15 visits for a provider to feel comfortable. Once they do 20 to 30, they will join the group of the telemedicine converted.”
For more information about using JeffConnect for on-demand or scheduled patient visits as well as remote consults and virtual rounds with family members, visit: Jefferson.edu/JeffConnect
"The Doctor Is ‘On’: Telemedicine Takes Off During COVID-19,"
Jefferson Surgical Solutions: Vol. 15:
1, Article 3.
Available at: https://jdc.jefferson.edu/jss/vol15/iss1/3