Telehealth Awareness Week™ – September 19 – 25, 2021 – is a landmark event highlighting the central role that telehealth now plays in delivering health care. MidMichigan Health is celebrating this week with a look at how telehealth services have expanded in recent years and what’s on the horizon. We asked Virtual Care Manager Steven W. Blodgett, M.B.A., C.P.M., C.T.C., C.H.A.M., for an inside look at what his team has been working on.
“MidMichigan has been investing in telehealth capabilities for several years, but the pandemic has brought a heightened need and many new innovations,” Blodgett said. “For example, one challenge all health systems are facing right now is a nationwide staffing shortage, and especially a shortage of highly specialized physicians. Telehealth can help alleviate those shortages by bringing patients and providers together without the need for travel. Patients can see our own MidMichigan Health experts from any hospital bed or provider’s office in our health system, and we also partner with providers at other hospitals in Michigan and throughout the nation to ensure patients get the specialized expertise they need.”
Some of the specialties MidMichigan Health offers via telemedicine include infectious disease, psychiatry, neurology, nutrition, nephrology, oncology, movement disorders, advanced heart failure, hospital at home, high risk breast imaging, physical therapy and intensivist coverage for ICUs.
MidMichigan Health has completed 193,612 virtual visits and saved 4,346,946 miles of patient travel since fiscal year 2017, and is continually expanding and improving its offerings.
“We’ve recently upgraded all our telehealth equipment with new hardware, software and peripherals, including a camera with an otoscope,” Blodgett said. “The new platform is easier for patients and providers to use, and the new peripherals offer providers more vitals that they can measure and clearer, higher-quality images for more accurate diagnosis.”
“We also have the option, when appropriate, to include remote family members in the telehealth session so that they can participate in discussions and be better informed of the patient’s progress.”
Provider feedback confirms that these advancements are making a difference in patient care.
“The telemedicine carts allow the University of Michigan providers to see MidMichigan patients in their local emergency rooms and to converse with them (as well as any family that have accompanied them) over video,” said Neurologist Molly McDermott, M.D., director of the Telestroke Program and Medical Director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Michigan Medicine. “The UM providers can control the video camera in the MidMichigan ER from their own computers in Ann Arbor. Over video the UM provider can perform a neurologic examination that helps them to make appropriate, timely recommendations to the local care team.”
While many applications of telehealth use state-of-the-art equipment within MidMichigan Health’s facilities, equally exciting advances are taking place in the palm of a patient’s hand.
“One of the most popular uses of telemedicine is to do a video visit from your home or office using your cell phone or mobile device,” said Blodgett. “MidMichigan is one of few health systems that offers the option to do a video visit with your own primary care provider, rather than a randomly-assigned ‘teledoc.’ Patients have expressed a strong preference for seeing their own provider, and this also keeps the documentation in the patient’s medical record for safer cross-checks and better collaboration within the care team. If the primary care provider orders tests or procedures, or refers the patient to another specialist in the health system, all of the related notes and results will be visible to the patient and their care team.”
What’s next in the telehealth world?
“Another impact of the pandemic is that our urgent cares and emergency departments have seen dramatic increases in volume for non-emergency conditions such as upper respiratory symptoms,” said Blodgett. “We are about to launch a new program called Virtual EZCare. This will enable patients who have a MyMidMichigan portal account to see the next available MidMichigan Health provider for minor illnesses such as allergies, respiratory infections, urinary tract infections and rashes. This will be a convenient alternative to driving to an Urgent Care or waiting for an appointment with your own provider, when your condition can be evaluated without a physical exam. Our EZCare location in Bay City has been offering this service to their own patients and this will expand availability to other MidMichigan Health patients as capacity allows.”
To learn more about MidMichigan’s virtual care offerings, visit www.midmichigan.org/virtualcare.