Telemedicine Lessons Learned
It was over 2 months without sitting together with a patient. It has been the longest gap in providing in-person patient care since my research fellowship in clinical and basic science research at the University of California, San Francisco in 2011-2012. Consultations in our Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna and Vancouver offices have been replaced by a flurry of telemedicine activity at Acumen Clinic. Here’s what I have learned from the shift from in-person care to virtual care:
- Be Flexible – Our approach at Acumen Clinic has always been to put the patient first. In telemedicine that means using whatever means of communication necessary. Even a simple phone call can start the journey to a diagnosis and treatment plan. I have now used FaceTime, Zoom, Skype and Whatsapp to reach patients. All work well to start a discussion and get to a presumed diagnosis.
- Don’t Overbook – Even though my ability to perform a physical examination is decreased through telehealth I’m still insisting on having an hour for consultations with new patients. There are calls when that’s too much time, but there’s still a lot to cover and patient education to deliver. Just because we’re not together it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t understand your injury and the path to recovery.
- ‘You Can’t Treat An X-ray’ – My mentors always reminded me that we treat people, not anatomy. That message has always stuck with me and with virtual care we have to remember that the ultrasound of the shoulder or the knee MRI don’t always tell the full story. I’m listening even more intently to patient’s stories and symptoms now to get the best picture of the problems they face and I explain all my thought processes to my patients to get their thoughts on my hypotheses about their problems. For all patients, we’re planning to get together as soon as possible for an in-person meeting and physical examination.
- Levelling the Playing Field for Rural and Remote Patients – I have had telemedicine consultations with patients from Manitoba to British Columbia during the 10 weeks since I have closed my clinic to in-person meetings. Many patients have been from rural areas, and the pandemic has showed that we can deliver equal care to rural and urban patients through virtual consultations and in many cases start treatment remotely as well since many of the patients that I see have non-surgical options for treatment that can be developed by Acumen Reconditioning through telerehabilitation.
Virtual care in all its forms is now becoming a part of medicine quickly. COVID-19 has forced physicians to change their long-held style of practice to protect our patients and continue to provide necessary care. I will continue to innovate in the ways that I bring telehealth technology into our clinic safely and securely. You can read more about Acumen’s investment in technology to improve the care of our patients through communication between our team and with your circle of care in a blog about Acumen Health Tech, our custom-built electronic health record.
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