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Better utilization of medical staff during virtual visits could boost patient outcomes.

Telehealth is here to stay.  The pandemic created a grueling testing ground for patients seeking medical care that did not further compromise their health.  Patients ill with COVID and other ailments had difficulty obtaining treatment or experienced long waits for care. Medical providers found they could see patients, maintain critical relationships with the chronically ill, and increase the efficiency of their practice through virtual visits.  Patients and providers are now seeking refinements to the overall experience of a remote health visit.  Experimentation with video calls will eventually work into standardized best practices for virtual healthcare in the future.

A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at the nuts-and-bolts of connecting calls for the digital visit.  The research systemically evaluated how to create more successful video visits, especially for patients with language, diversity, and digital connection challenges.

A standard doctor visit involves the patient traveling to a medical office, connecting with reception, and settling in the waiting room to wait for an appointment.  For remote visits, the time, expense, and challenge of travel to the medical office is eliminated.  Yet, the need for timely arrival and check-in remains.  At the outset of the pandemic in 2020, researchers with Kaiser Permanente began working on establishing a protocol for practice groups and clinicians when providing virtual care.

Using data from the Kaiser Permanente network in Northern California, study authors initiated the use of “virtual rooming.”  Just as with an in-person doctor visit, virtual rooming creates the process at the outset of a medical appointment where a patient arrives, checks-in, and has a consultation with a medical assistant about their current status and concerns.  In this study, patients were provided a digital link to the medical appointment ahead of time.  At fifteen minutes prior to their appointment, a medical assistant phoned the patient to walk through the electronic process of using the link and assisting them with check-in.

Across the system, researchers found that patients who use virtual rooming were seven percent more likely to connect successful for their telehealth visit. The study found that 87 percent of video visits were successfully connected. Study author Dr. Mary Reed noted, “There’s always a chance that technology will fail or you won’t have good enough reception. We found a very high rate of success during a challenging time of the pandemic.”

While the challenges of the pandemic have eased, the processes created out of necessity remain.  Standards of practice for the use of telemedicine continue to develop.  While video mode cannot be used to treat all patients, it can offer efficiencies to patients and providers that the industry is hoping do not compromise the care provided.

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