Implementation and Optimization of Telehealth during the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis—Our Journey
Keywords:Change Management, Rural Communities, Telehealth, Telemedicine
Telehealth offered a great opportunity for the clinicians at West Tennessee Healthcare to provide an essential service to the community at large during these unprecedented times. Our telehealth footprint continues to enlarge daily with more clinicians and specialties becoming comfortable with the workflows and technology. The program is described herein.
The COVID-19 pandemic tests the ability of many primary care, urgent care, and hospital systems to adapt quickly to new circumstances. In many of these offices, virtual telehealth visits have become a strategy to decrease the use of personal protective equipment, and mitigate the risk of exposure of providers, staff, or patients to the coronavirus, among many other opportunities.1 West Tennessee Healthcare noted these same strong headwinds, as the pandemic and emergency decelerations began to send individuals to continue to reschedule appointments for a multitude of reasons—including fear.
West Tennessee Healthcare is located in an underserved area with a lack of access to healthcare in all of our servicing districts. Each of these districts holds a classification of a partial or full healthcare professional shortage area. In our over 40 primary and specialty care clinics, face-to-face visits began to shudder near the end of March with the Tennessee governor’s first social distancing and business step-down regulations. With the foresight of other health systems being impacted by COVID-19, our medical practices were forced into a dilemma to creatively continue to offer quality care, but from a new environment. Prior to this federal and state emergency, our clinics were in the planning stages of creating a telehealth environment but had not completed any medical telehealth visits.
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