This year has been tough to say the least, but with promising reports of new vaccines, expanded testing, and a renewed focus on controlling the pandemic, we can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. As we head into the new year, it’s important for us to reflect on all that has been accomplished under the tremendous circumstances of the past 12 months.
During the pandemic when access to care was exacerbated by practice closures, capacity restrictions, and attempts to limit physician exposure to COVID-19, there was never a more critical time for the healthcare industry to explore alternative models of care delivery. Enter telehealth. PWNHealth (PWN) has been providing telehealth services to COVID-19 patients since mid-March, supporting nearly 12 million tests and over 450,000 discussions between patients with positive or indeterminate results and PWN healthcare providers giving clinical support and guidance.
Telehealth consultations have made the remote delivery of patient education during quarantine possible, preventing the risk of exposure that would accompany a traditional in-person visit. Results from a survey by PWN demonstrate that patients who were tested and received guidance through this virtual model would have otherwise visited in-person clinical environments such as emergency rooms or urgent care centers, increasing the risk of infection for both patients and providers. Furthermore, while many of these patients had never used telehealth services before, they were highly satisfied with their experience and would use a similar service again for a future need. The feedback we have received from patients regarding their satisfaction with and interest in the continued use of telehealth are a testament to PWN’s incredible network of physicians.
In October, we launched a patient experience section of our website, highlighting many stories of those who went through our testing and how that influenced their journey through the pandemic. We realized however, that we wanted to more thoroughly record the stories of the other side as well: our physicians.
The Physician Perspective
Some of our physicians have been providing telehealth services for years and some have just started during the pandemic, but all of them have been doing heroic work to support our patients each and every day. While telehealth physicians have played a vital role to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the media has understandably focused primarily on physicians working in hospitals. Wanting to highlight the tremendous work by physicians on the other frontline, we surveyed our provider network in late spring to learn more about their experiences. Many physicians reported that they had decided to initiate or expand telehealth work due to layoffs, furloughs, cuts in pay/hours, or other negative effects in their primary role. At that time, nearly all respondents expressed satisfaction with their telehealth work and a desire to continue providing telehealth services after the pandemic.
As 2020 comes to an end, we reached out to our physicians again to provide additional insight into their experience and to share their personal stories from this year with the launch of our physician testimonials project. As part of this project, we collected many stories from our physician network, which we will share over the coming weeks. These voices, coupled with those of our patients, provide a unique perspective of the pandemic as it unfolded and its effects on all involved.
Dr. Ratliff is the first physician in PWN’s network to share her story. She shared her experience of being given a 90-day notice from her hospital position one month after the pandemic hit — a common experience for practicing physicians during this time. Fortunately, Dr. Ratliff was able to work from home providing telehealth services until her full-time practice transitioned to new management. Here is an excerpt in her words highlighting some of the benefits of the telehealth services she provides to patients:
PWN is an excellent resource for community and employee-based testing. Patients love that through this process they not only get a paper copy of their results, but actually speak to a physician who reviews the results with them in order to be sure they understand the results, treatment options and need for any follow-up. This prevents critical results from falling through the cracks and it allows for an efficient care delivery process so that patients do not have to take as much time off work for testing and follow-up as they would in a traditional care setting.
Dr. Ratliff and many others in the healthcare industry are thankful for the expansion of telehealth resulting from the pandemic as it enables an accessible and important alternative for patients.
I am hopeful that it will continue to expand in its role and acceptance in health care now that it has received some recognition. There are so many areas where it could lead to better use of resources and allow for tremendous savings in healthcare expenditure if it is utilized appropriately.
To read more about Dr. Ratliff’s story and other personal accounts from our network, visit our testimonials page here.
On behalf of all of us at PWNHealth, cheers to a happier and healthier new year.