St. Luke’s Embraces Microsoft Teams Software to Care for Patients and Facilitate Communication During COVID Pandemic
What do you do during a pandemic if you need to see a doctor for a concern other than COVID? Live with the symptoms? Ignore them? Hope that maybe your pain or discomfort will magically disappear? Risk even greater medical issues because you didn’t seek help for a critical or chronic condition?
Realtime, remote and safe communication is paramount to conducting business and caring for patients efficiently during a pandemic, and St. Luke’s longtime partnership with Microsoft continues to reap benefits for patients and providers alike under arduous and unusual circumstances.
In March, as COVID-19 began to spread throughout the Lehigh Valley, St. Luke’s launched several new and innovative applications with MS Teams, led by colleagues from IT, St. Luke’s Physician Group (SLPG) and patient care teams from the Department of Nursing. More than 1,900 physicians, advanced practitioners, office staff and administrators were trained for virtual visits with patients in just three days, says James Balshi, MD, St. Luke’s Chief Medical Information Officer.
“From a starting point of zero elective, scheduled virtual visits, we have logged well over 100,000 to date,” he reported – more than any other hospital in the region. St. Luke‘s took extraordinary steps to keep as many patient appointments as possible by establishing itself as the regional leader in digital health.
Your health care needs don’t stop, and neither do we,” states St. Luke’s family medicine physician Dennis McGorry, MD. “In most cases you can stay home and still be ‘seen’ by your doctor.”
So impressive and immediate was St. Luke’s embrace of this technology that the Network was praised as a “Digital First Responder’” by Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President on a recent episode of Talk With Your Doctor. “If there’s a ‘silver lining’ to this pandemic for providers and patients, it’s a more expanded use of Microsoft Teams to improve access to care,” said Dr. Balshi.
The telehealth function of Microsoft Teams has also facilitated personal and safe interactions between doctors and patients in the hospital setting using digital tablets. This “virtual rounding” reduces provider and staff exposure to the virus, limits unneeded use of protective personal equipment and allows family members to ‘visit’ hospitalized loved ones without risking contamination.
St. Luke’s regularly holds department meetings, Grand Rounds and other education forums, keeping staff informed in a safe, cost effective and convenient manner. Virtual meetings allow Network-wide participation in these forums that would otherwise be impractical because of travel distance and time. "Microsoft Teams allows a new level of efficiency and safety for patients, providers and families," adds Dr. Balshi. "While traditional face-to-face doctor/patient visits will always be necessary for some clinical encounters, we see Virtual Visits as a permanent enhancement in our St. Luke’s patient experience."