Created: August 01, 2020 10:22 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In the midst of the pandemic, telehealth services have helped the state’s specialist-shortage problem.
In April and May, primary care visits to Presbyterian Hospital decreased by almost 30% compared to the year before. UNM Hospital saw a 24% decrease in outpatient visits in May and more than 1,100 surgeries were postponed. In June, Presbyterian Hospital only saw a 5% decrease as more people started to rely on remote services.
"We’ve been able to be more efficient and effective in providing what we call direct to consumer health care—meaning, we're not making the patient come into our facility, but we can call them at their home and be able to interview them and prescribe their care,” said Dr. Denise A. Gonzales, with Presbyterian.
Dr. Gonzales with Presbyterian said in the beginning of the pandemic, many people were left untreated.
"When we first started our pandemic response in the messaging across the state we tried to discourage people from leaving their homes,” said Dr. Denise A. Gonzales, with Presbyterian. “I think there was an unintended consequence that people then felt like they shouldn't come to their clinic, they shouldn't come to the hospital, and that they should just kind of try to ride it out, and what we've seen is that a lot of people have experienced problems like heart attacks and strokes because they've stayed home and have not come in to seek care.”
Cynde Tagg with UNM Hospital said while telehealth has been useful, it has its limitations.
"Telehealth is a safe, effective way to get care during these times, and the way we accomplish that is by either a phone call or an a platform such as Zoom, where the patient and a physician can actually see one another, and while it's a great option, it may not be the right option for all types of care that a patient may need,” Tagg said.
People can still pay a visit to the doctor in-person, but should expect to wait a little longer since many clinics are operating with limited capacity.
Ultimately, both doctors and patients are still learning the ropes of telehealth.
"It’s a new day in healthcare for both doctors and nurses and other allied health professionals,” Tagg said. “We have to learn how to do this. We have to learn how to ask the right questions. We have to know how to pull the information out from the patients via the telephone line or via the Zoom link, and so we're learning as we go."
Presbyterian Health Services said specialty care visits dropped by about 25% in April, then 30% in May.
Health professionals are encouraging people to try out telehealth if they have concerns.
"We're very comfortable giving telemedicine services to our patients when we think that it's appropriate,” Dr. Gonzales said.
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