In March as COVID-19 began to spread throughout the Lehigh Valley, St. Luke‘s University Health Network took extraordinary steps to keep as many patient appointments as possible by establishing itself as the regional leader in digital health.
More than 1,200 providers, including physical therapists, were trained to perform virtual visits. By last week, they had conducted more than 100,000 telehealth appointments – more than any other hospital in the region.
What do you do 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?
No! You have a virtual visit with your primary care doctor, specialist or physical therapist. “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.”
Martin Stockman recently cancelled his appointment at St. Luke’s Fogelsville Primary Care because he was apprehensive about a visit with the onset of Covid-19 in the region. Wafa Hanna, MD, Martin’s primary care physician, has been helping Martin manage his hypertension for years, and at his previous appointment, Martin’s blood pressure was elevated. “Shortly after I cancelled, the office reached out to me and asked if I’d like to do a virtual visit and I agreed,” explained Martin.
Martin prepared for the online appointment by recording several blood pressure readings, his pulse, weight and temperature. “I didn’t share my weight with Dr. Hanna because I knew it was higher than it should be,” disclosed Martin with a laugh. During the virtual visit, which lasted approximately 20 minutes, Dr. Hanna reviewed all of Martin’s medications, made some adjustments and even took a look at his ankles for swelling. “Dr. Hanna told me there was no one else in the exam room with her and that made me feel just as comfortable during the virtual visit as I do when I’m in her office.”
Virtual therapy visits area available for physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech and language pathology, using your smartphone, tablet or computer. So far, more than 3,000 visits have been completed including evaluations of more than 100 brand new patients.
Edward (Ed) Marzigliano is a 46-year-old resident of Bangor. He has been seeing St. Luke’s physical therapist Christopher Fisher because of a shoulder injury that he sustained in a motor vehicle accident. Ed underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. “He initially was being seen in the clinic and making progress but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he needed to convert his visits to virtual therapy, says Chris. “He has been making progress with virtual PT and has found it to be of great value and very effective.”
According to St. Luke’s experts, there are several things you can do to ensure a successful telehealth or virtual visit:
- Plan Ahead
Think about what you want to accomplish during the visit. Do you want to discuss your medications or treatment options? Do you need to renew a prescription? Do you need help for a specific medical condition or set of symptoms? Try to prioritize what's most important for you during the call, as time may be limited. Have your basic health information ready:
- Basic symptoms prompting the appointment.
- Medical history, including chronic conditions.
- Prescription and over-the-counter medications [health.usnews.com] or herbal supplements [health.usnews.com] you use, including vitamins.
- Your pharmacy phone number and address.
- Your primary doctor's name and contact info.
- Insurance or credit card information.
- Find a Quiet, Private Place to Talk
If possible, get away from children, pets and other distractions. Make sure you can be there for 30 minutes or so. Charge or plug in your phone or computer; get some paper and a pen for taking notes. Gather medical equipment such as a thermometer or asthma inhaler if appropriate.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Talk
Your conversation with the doctor should be like an in-person appointment. Write down what you want to discuss before you start to make sure you cover everything. Be prepared to answer some simple questions:
- What prompted this appointment today?
- What symptoms do you have? How long have they been going on, and how have they developed and changed over time?
- What have you done to treat them so far? What are the results from treatment?
- Have you ever had these symptoms before? What treatments did you use and what were the results?
Martin Stockman said the online connection he had during his virtual visit was great and the technology was easy to navigate. “It was a really positive experience and I definitely recommend it,’ said Martin. “Everyone is so fixated on Covid-19, so this is a great way to re-focus on your health, especially if you have any chronic conditions.”
“Staying on top of your health is important, especially in times of uncertainty. With St. Luke’s Virtual Visits, you can connect with your primary care doctor, a physical therapist or a specialist from the comfort and convenience of your own home. This is history in the making.”
Patients who already have a scheduled appointment or need a new appointment are encouraged to call their physicians’ office to schedule the virtual visit in place of their typical in-office visit. Then it’s simply a matter of connecting via phone or computer.
“Staying home is important in a time like this,” says McGorry. “As we are being advised to shelter in place, it should be reassuring to know that your doctor is here for you.”
How can a St. Luke’s Virtual Visit help you?
- Primary care, physical therapy and specialty care appointments
- Routine, chronic and acute health needs
- Personal care with physical distance
- Care provided on your smartphone, tablet or computer
Call your St. Luke’s doctor or Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s office today to schedule your virtual visit. If you are looking to find a provider, call 1-866-STLUKES (758-8537), option 4 or visit www.sluhn.org.
For information on the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.sluhn.org/covid-19.
About St. Luke’s
Founded in 1872, St. Luke's University Health Network (SLUHN) is a fully integrated, regional, non-profit network of more than 15,000 employees providing services at 11 hospitals and 300 outpatient sites. With annual net revenue greater than $2 billion, the Network’s service area includes 11 counties: Lehigh, Northampton, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Montgomery, Monroe, Schuylkill and Luzerne counties in Pennsylvania and Warren and Hunterdon counties in New Jersey. Dedicated to advancing medical education, St. Luke's is the preeminent teaching hospital in central-eastern Pennsylvania. In partnership with Temple University, St. Luke's created the Lehigh Valley's first and only regional medical school campus. It also operates the nation’s longest continuously operating School of Nursing, established in 1884, and 34 fully accredited graduate medical educational programs with 263 residents and fellows. St. Luke's is the only Lehigh Valley-based health care system with Medicare’s five- and four-star ratings (the highest) for quality, efficiency and patient satisfaction. St. Luke’s is both a Leapfrog Group and Healthgrades Top Hospital and a Newsweek World’s Best Hospital. In 2019, three of IBM Watson Health's 100 Top Hospitals were St. Luke's hospitals. St. Luke's University Hospital has earned the 100 Top Major Teaching Hospital designation from IBM Watson Health seven times total and five years in a row. St. Luke's has also been cited by IBM Watson Health as a 50 Top Cardiovascular Program. Utilizing the Epic electronic medical record (EMR) system for both inpatient and outpatient services, the Network is a multi-year recipient of the Most Wired award recognizing the breadth of the SLUHN's information technology applications such as telehealth, online scheduling and online pricing information. St. Luke's is also recognized as one of the state's lowest cost providers.