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The Future of Telemedicine is Today at GBMC

By:

Korey Karnes Huyler for GBMC

June 24, 2020
As early as 2018, Dr. Robin Motter-Mast, medical director of primary care at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, knew that telehealth (virtual communications between patients and providers) was the way of the future. “As a patient-centered medical home, it’s the right thing to be doing,” she explains. “However, providers had some reservations about how they would treat and examine the patients. And we had to set up the systems and get the (insurance companies) on board. We did all that.”

Fast forward a year: In 2019, GBMC started offering telehealth video visits between providers and a small group of patients. When telehealth launched, Dr. Motter-Mast’s team’s goal was for each GBMC primary care physician’s office to incorporate video visits into their patient offerings. After achieving this, her committee set their next goal to have every primary care provider complete a video visit. The plan was to then expand telehealth to the GBMC specialists by June 2020.

Then COVID-19 changed the world — and put GBMC’s telehealth program on the fast track. When social distancing and the coronavirus shelter-in-place order arrived in the Baltimore region, GBMC quickly put telehealth into practice on a large scale. Patients, providers and insurance companies were ready.

Telehealth Success

In February, there were 59 GBMC telehealth visits during the month. In March, there were 3,540. In April, there were more than 13,000. And in May, GBMC conducted 11,302 video visits, 443 phone consultations and 1,691 billable phone visits, bringing the May telehealth total to 13,436.

With the shelter-in-place guidelines for the Baltimore region lasting throughout the spring, patients were glad they could see their doctors without having to go to an office.

“I greatly appreciated the option for a video visit, especially for minor health concerns,” says one patient. “This is a huge time saver, and having this option will allow people to address minor concerns before they become a bigger health issue. Awesome tool for follow-ups.”

Another patient agrees:
“I really like the video conference format. Dr. Cross answered all of my questions, and we were able to share my positive progress as I control my blood glucose. I look forward to my next video conference with her! Outstanding.”

How it Works

Patients schedule an appointment by calling the doctor’s office or setting up an appointment on MyChart, the online patient portal system for GBMC. After the appointment is scheduled, a representative from the doctor’s office calls the patient to explain how the appointment will work and answer any questions. “Our receptionists have quickly become tech experts,” says Dr. Motter-Mast. “They can answer any questions and help people get set up.”

The morning of the appointment, a medical assistant calls the patient to make sure they are ready for the virtual visit. Visits can take place through MyChart, FaceTime or one of a few other new apps recently created for patient visits.

While some symptoms are best diagnosed with an in-person doctor’s visit (like abdominal pain or ear pain), many other medical issues are ideal for video visits, explains Dr. Motter-Mast. Things like a recurring urinary tract infection, conjunctivitis and most mental health can be treated via video visit.

Bariatrics, pediatrics and gynecology are just a few of the other departments that have conducted a notable amount of video visits in the last few months.

“Doctors and patients have enjoyed seeing each other outside of a sterile doctor’s office,” says Dr. Motter-Mast. “Providers have been telling me that they enjoy seeing a patient in their real-life environment — with their kids and pets running around, that sort of thing.”

Dr. Motter-Mast hopes that GBMC’s telehealth options, particularly video visits, will continue to be popular.

“I think that video visits are here to stay,” she says. “With telehealth, we can see people when they really need it. Coronavirus is giving us the ability to find innovative ways of doing things and make new habits. And we need to move forward, not backwards. Once patients realize they don’t have to stop what they’re doing to get to doctor’s office and sit in the waiting room, they recognize the benefits of telehealth.”
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