In an effort to significantly reduce the number of people walking in and out of its medical facilities, Sansum Clinic has launched a new program allowing patients to be seen by their own doctors — primary care or specialists — via Zoom rather than in face-to-face clinical encounters.
In the past week, Sansum has increased its new telemedicine option from seven a day to hundreds. To date, 1,100 Zoom office visits have now been conducted. The maximum capacity envisioned is 1,000 a day. Before the pandemic, Sansum saw roughly 2,000 patients daily. The new program was instigated to reduce the potential for transmission of COVID-19 droplets from patient to patient or to staff. Making it possible is a recent change in federal rules that now allow video visits to qualify as medical office visits for purposes of insurance payments.
Sansum CEO Kurt Ransohoff, still a practicing GP, said he’s conducted seven visits via Zoom so far. “These are continuity-of-care visits. These are patients who are recovering from significant medical problems that need ongoing attention,” said Ransohoff. “We’re hoping to be able to tell people, ‘You’re doing okay.’ But if they’re not, we’ll want to get them in.” In one instance, Ransohoff said, his patient was recovering from a foot injury. “He held up his foot right in front of the camera.” Another patient, however, complained about numbness in her finger. “That one needed to come in,” he said. Another doctor had a patient with a severe-looking skin rash on his hands. It turned out, he had been washing his hands 50 times a day.
Of course, some practices lend themselves to telemedicine more than others. Ransohoff suggested about 95 percent of all psychiatric patients could be seen via Zoom. “Rectal surgery,” he said, “that’s a whole other kettle of fish.” Ransohoff recounted how one oncologist used his cell phone via Zoom to show a cancer patient the results of a recent CAT scan.
Clearly, the driving force is mounting alarm over COVID-19. At Sansum, the phones are ringing off the hook. Sean Johnson, the clinic’s vice present in charge of electronic records and IT, implemented a triage portal in which patients are asked a series of questions regarding flu-like symptoms. Depending on their answers — and their degree of urgency — they can connect the patient to a doctor by phone. Coronavirus testing, however, remains a severe challenge giving the shortage of test kits, swabs, reagents, and other key ingredients.
Like other medical institutions, Sansum is also struggling to maintain an adequate stockpile of personal protective equipment — gowns, gloves, goggles, and masks. Last week, Sansum initiated another new program in response to the COVID crisis, opening a car-based testing program in the parking lot of its Urgent Care center on Pesetas Lane. To date, Ransohoff estimated, Sansum has conducted 100 tests.
About a month ago, Cottage Health also launched a different variant of telemedicine, allowing patients to engage with nurse practitioners and offsite doctors about specific health concerns. These visits do not involve the patients’ primary care physicians or other doctors assigned to their care, nor do they involve the patients’ medical records.