March 31, 2020 – Telehealth has become the order of the day during the COVID-19 pandemic, and The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center is serving as a model for other health care organizations seeking to make the quick transition to virtual patient care. 

“We have been leading the way in working with patients and providers during this crisis because of a well incubated telehealth platform,” said L. Arick Forrest, MD, MBA, vice dean of clinical affairs at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “A lot of organizations have reached out to us to hear what we are doing.”

Academic medical centers as far west as Stanford University and small health organizations right here in Ohio have contacted the Wexner Medical Center seeking advice about how to connect with patients remotely. Most have had questions related to facilitating their patients’ trust and understanding of telehealth.  

Remote medical care is unfamiliar to many people in the country. Though 80% of health care systems have some sort of telemedicine service, only 28% of doctors reported using telehealth in 2019, according to the American Medical Association. 

At the Wexner Medical Center, 57% of physicians and advanced practice providers are actively using telehealth with more than 9,000 patients, center data show. 

Since the coronavirus crisis hit, many patients have expressed gratitude at being able to continue their medical care while keeping themselves and others safe. 

“My wife and I are both over 60 with pre-existing conditions and knowing that we can still work with our physicians is very important,” one patient emailed the medical center. “Thanks for working to get all our telemedicine appointments set.”

Dr. Forrest, who oversees the strategic initiation and implementation of telehealth across the medical center, says Ohio State adopted “a very aggressive telehealth strategy” to combat COVID-19. The number of providers using video visits, phone visits and e-visits jumped from 46 before the pandemic to 806 by the end of March, he said. Patient use climbed from 627 to 9,146 in that same time. 

He attributed the increase in users partly to medical center’s new on-demand telehealth urgent care phone line and multiple telehealth options:

  • Evisits — Using MyChart, patients complete an online assessment about their symptoms and providers can respond with recommendations.
  • Phone/Video Visits — Appointments between doctors and patients using phone or video technology in place of in-person visits.
  • Evisitor — Using Facebook Messenger at hospital bedsides, patients can connect to loved ones at this time when most hospital visitation is not permitted.
  • Teleconsults — A way for providers to consult with one another virtually about patient cases.
  • Virtual Rounding — A way for doctors to check in with patients through iPads stationed at hospital beds. This helps preserve Personal Protective Equipment needed to treat COVID-19 patients. 

“Telehealth has enabled our care teams to reach beyond the walls of our clinics and hospitals .... (to) decrease the exposure for both the patient and those that provide the care,” Dr. Forrest said.

Public health officials and the Trump administration have urged people to use telemedicine. In Ohio, 80% of COVID-19 cases are being treated outside of hospitals.Patients:

Please avoid visiting the hospitals or outpatient care locations if you have flu-like symptoms. If you have fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat or loss of smell, please call your primary care provider or see a doctor or nurse on-demand by calling 614-293-3200. If you’re experiencing severe symptoms, visit an emergency room.

“Please use the phone or telemedicine to contact your primary care physician when you have (COVID-19) symptoms.”
— Amy Acton, MD, PhD, Ohio’s Director of Health

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The James/Wexner Medical Center Development Office
c/o The OSU Foundation
PO Box 710811
Columbus, OH 43271-0811

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