Turning to Telemedicine in the Wake of Coronavirus

Jefferson’s Dr. Aditi Joshi shares some tips for how to use telemedicine effectively, keeping yourself and your community safe.

With the rapidly evolving COVID19 crisis, many are growing increasingly worried about access to healthcare. There are concerns that going to the doctor’s office or the emergency room could result in inadvertent exposure to the pathogen. So how do you get your questions answered, safely but quickly?

Many are turning to telemedicine, which is a perfect tool for a situation like this coronavirus outbreak. Dr. Aditi Joshi, Medical Director of JeffConnect, Jefferson’s telehealth platform, tells us how physicians have prepared for this unprecedented challenge. “As the threat of the virus has grown in the Northeast, we have seen a huge increase in the volume of patients calling in,” says Dr. Joshi. “Over the last week, there’s been almost a 100% increase in patients from one day to the next.” To keep up with the demand, the JeffConnect team has trained 108 doctors from all over Jefferson Health just over the last 3 days, ensuring that patients calling in have access to a provider. Despite the high volumes, the average wait time today is usually less than 10 minutes.

Dr. Joshi helps answer some commonly asked questions so that you can make the most of your telehealth appointment.

How do I get access to telemedicine at Jefferson?
“Simply go to your app store, download the JeffConnect app, create an account, and click to connect to a physician!” says Dr. Joshi. You can connect from any device that has video capability – your phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. JeffConnect is available 24/7.

How should I prepare for my telemedicine appointment?
“I always tell people to treat this like any other medical encounter – know your medical history, know any medications you’re taking, and be prepared to describe any symptoms you’re feeling,” advises Dr. Joshi. While the ease of telemedicine means you can call from anywhere you are, Dr. Joshi recommends moving to a quiet room with privacy. “Providers are able to do medical exams over video. I can examine whether you’re breathing normally, I can tell if you have a sinus or throat infection, I have guided family members through an abdominal exam on the patient” says Dr. Joshi. “From that exam, I can advise medications or higher level of care.”

If I am worried that I have coronavirus, what questions should I be asking?
“It’s a scary situation right now, and first and foremost, for anyone who is worried that they might be infected with COVID19, we want them to know that we’re available to help them,” says Dr. Joshi. “To get the most information from your appointment with us, you should be asking – What are warning signs or symptoms I should look out for? How do I treat my symptoms? If I do need to get tested, how do I get tested safely? If I am self-quarantining or isolating at home and have family, how do I keep others around me safe?”

Right now, we all have to be thinking about our communities and how to keep them safe. –Dr. Joshi

What kind of treatment or recommendation should I expect from my telemedicine appointment?
“Because this is an evolving situation, we want to remind people that we’re giving them the best information that we have, based on the guidelines and available testing that we have at the moment. We keep updated on changing guidelines when we get them,” says Dr. Joshi “The first thing we do is assess risk – are you experiencing mild symptoms like a dry cough? If so, we’ll recommend that you stay at home, self-quarantine and take medications to help manage those symptoms. Because of the current limitations in testing, our advice may be to not get tested for now, because there may be high-risk groups that do need testing.” Even with the current limitations in testing, Dr. Joshi tells us that they have sent 40% of their patient volume for testing, based on the risk stratification that JeffConnect’s doctors are instructed to follow. If you are experiencing more severe symptoms like difficulty breathing or speaking, this may be a sign of respiratory distress, and you will be advised to go to the emergency room.

What if I have health issues that are not related to COVID19?
“We still have a lot of people calling in who have other health concerns, and they’re scared to leave their house, or they have health issues that make them vulnerable to this disease,” says Dr. Joshi. “We are still providing care for those patients, we can do things like refill your medication, basic exams, and we can provide that reassurance that so many people are looking for right now.”

Why should I use telemedicine instead of just going to the ER?
“Right now, we all have to be thinking about our communities and how to keep them safe,” says Dr. Joshi. “A visit to the ER that could have been treated elsewhere, such as at home, risks both patients and providers being exposed, and takes up hospital beds and resources that are in such high demand.” There are many conditions like the common cold and flu that can cause symptoms that are similar to those caused by the novel coronavirus, says Dr. Joshi. A brief telemedicine visit, from the safety of your own home, can act as that first line of defense.

“You would be surprised at how much we can do and how much information we can give you through a telehealth appointment,” says Dr. Joshi. “I think sometimes people are worried about telemedicine being impersonal or not being able to talk to a real physician. We are still physicians and we are here to listen to you and give you real medical care.”

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COVID-19, Research & Innovation

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