Telemedicine: The Lifeline for Patients and Physicians

Telemedicine: The Lifeline for Patients and Physicians

A Personal Account by Lauren Faison-Clark, Regional Development, Population Health and Telemedicine Administrator

Years from now, we'll each have our own "Pandemic of 2020" story to tell.

My story will not be about the woes of homeschooling or my quest for toilet paper; it will be a story about my unique observations behind the scenes on the front lines at a local hospital. I work in healthcare. I am not a nurse or doctor. I don't save lives, but I have the honor of supporting those that do in my role as an administrator for regional development, population health and telemedicine at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare (TMH).

For months, news and social media have been flooded with stories about Coronavirus ‑ where cases are on the rise, where they are going down, the debate on whether schools should open or stay virtual and countless other conversations about masks, social distancing, vaccines and what's yet to come. One story that has gotten lost in the noise is the transformation of healthcare through technology.

Telemedicine, the use of videoconferencing technology to connect physicians to patients, is not new. Before COVID-19, this type of technology was isolated to specific areas for specific reasons. In March, that all changed. Suddenly, clinics closed, and visitors were not allowed in hospitals or nursing homes. Physicians were quarantined at home and critical care, therapy and support services stopped. COVID-19 completely shut down the healthcare delivery system like never before. What the virus didn't stop was the ongoing healthcare needs of so many in our community. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory illnesses, and other chronic and acute health issues did not go away because of the Coronavirus. Accidents happened, bones got broken, and injuries still occurred.

What did change is how we delivered those critical services. Technology became the lifeline for so many. TMH set up a Telehealth Command Center and established an interdisciplinary team to support our physicians in preparing to use technology to care for their patients safely. In three days, TMH deployed the option of virtual visits to 39 clinics (inpatient and outpatient facilities) with over 600 clinical physicians.

Countless doctors, nurses, therapists and other healthcare workers embraced telemedicine technology as a tool to safely treat their patients at home.

It was hard, and at times frustrating, but failure was not an option. It worked. Since mid-March, thousands of patients have connected to care through their phones, tablets and computers safely from home. Hundreds of patients have been screened and tested for COVID-19 from the safety of their cars and anxious parents have been able to stay connected to their baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 have been able to see their loved ones virtually and immunocompromised patients have been able to connect to their primary care or specialist physicians from the safety of their homes. The list goes on and on.

Some moments are forever burned in my memory and my heart. Moments like watching a very sick grandmother, hospitalized with COVID-19, perk up when she saw her family - her children and grandchildren - on the screen of the telemedicine cart next to her bed. She reached for them and smiled - her entire demeanor changed in a moment. It was a moment her family longed for and was so thankful to have.

The term "pandemic" seemed like a foreign concept bringing so much hurt and tragedy to so many, but it has also made us refocus and embrace innovation. Telemedicine has created critical care connections and we must advocate for its continued use where appropriate. I feel blessed to part of such a special community and like so many, I will continue to make Tallahassee and the surrounding areas a healthy place to live.

To learn more about telemedicine at TMH, visit TMH.ORG.

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