Two state hospital systems have embraced virtual visits to deliver patient care during COVID-19.


The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a new delivery mechanism for urgent care and non-emergency medical needs in West Virginia. The technology isn’t so new, but the availability of telemedicine appointments is a new concept for most residents. At least two of the major health systems in the state—Mon Health Systems and WVU Medicine—are using virtual means to provide patient care during these uncertain times.

By moving a wide variety of visits to telehealth, the two hospitals decrease
COVID-19 infection risks to patients and providers, preserve much-in-demand personal protective equipment, and lessen the burden on an already taxed medical system. If the medical professional feels the telehealth visit warrants an in-person exam or follow up testing, those appointments are still available in associated hospitals and clinics around the state.

Even before COVID-19 became a household name, transportation to
appointments was a difficult issue that many West Virginians faced, says Dr. Gregory Nelcamp, senior vice president of clinical affairs for Mon Health. “Telemedicine and telehealth will be a continuing part of our options for the care of patients in the Mon Health System moving forward.”

The move feels like a progressive one for WVU Medicine, too. “We’ve always thought that telemedicine was the perfect solution for a rural state like West Virginia, and we’ve been putting that infrastructure in place for a long time,” says Dr. Judie Charlton, chief medical officer at WVU Medicine. “Regulatory agencies and insurance companies were holding us back. If anything good comes out of this crisis, it’s that those restrictions have been temporarily lifted and that these people can see that telemedicine is a really good thing.”

WVU Medicine is seeing a positive response from patients receiving this type of care, and the number of telemedicine appointments is skyrocketing daily. The last two months of March saw more than 4,300 virtual visits with more than 1,000 telemedicine appointments on March 31 alone. Darin Rogers, vice president for ambulatory administration for WVU Medicine, says he hopes the trend continues and that patient satisfaction follows suit. Mon Health System reports growing patient and provider satisfaction, too. The hospital system is currently offering virtual visits from 25 locations across the state, Nelcamp says.

Experts recommend requesting a telemedicine appointment for behavioral health issues, chronic disease management, COVID-19 concerns, follow-up visits, lifestyle coaching, medication management, smoking cessation therapy, testing follow-up, and minor sickness.

Both hospital systems are waiving any patient costs associated with telemedicine appointments for the time being. “We didn’t want patients to go without care, and we knew many might be reluctant to participate in this
new kind of care,” Charlton says. “We also know that people are struggling financially right now, and we wanted to do our part to support them.” Nelcamp says the mission right now is to “make telehealth accessible to
all patients in the region without regard to financial status during this critical time.”

WVU patients who are interested in learning more about telemedicine can log into their My Chart accounts for access. The hospital system also created an online tool kit to walk patients through the whole process, says Shannon McAllister, assistant vice president for population health and telemedicine at WVU Medicine. If they’d prefer to have someone talk them through it,
they can call 866.982.4278.

Mon Health patients needing an appointment should first call the clinic to
schedule as usual. They will then receive instructions for their first virtual visit. Patients can learn more about the process and access links to physician portals at monhealth.com.

The technology that supports these virtual visits is remarkable, Nelcamp says. “Virtual visits are very advanced, and the audio and video are excellent. The development of truly amazing technology has made telehealth and telemedicine a critical part of health care moving forward. It allows us to overcome travel and distance barriers and increases the accessibility of health care to the maximum number of people.”

This type of care delivery could serve the state well now and in the future, Charlton says. “We want to present a win-win for everyone,” she says. “Even after this pandemic is long gone, we want to provide care that West Virginians need, that prevents them from driving far distances or braving inclement weather to make their appointments. West Virginia is primed for
this opportunity.”


posted on May 1, 2020

image via Shutterstock

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Holly Leleux-Thubron
Written by Holly Leleux-Thubron
Holly is the managing editor for all magazines created by New South Media. She has more than 15 years of professional writing experience and when she isn’t working on the next issue, she’s finding adventure with her husband, Stephen, and teenage daughters: Isabel and Eve.