Rapid Response: Telehealth Scales Up in Response to COVID

MUSC telehealth

As Telehealth rapidly scaled up during the pandemic to provide care to patients, surgeons and patients realize the benefits to virtual care. 

With the onset of the pandemic, rapid changes to the way healthcare is delivered was needed to minimize the impact the virus had on patients, reduce staff exposure and preserve personal protective equipment.

Luckily for South Carolinians, the Medical University of South Carolina, one of only two Telehealth Centers of Excellence nationwide, already had an excellent telehealth infrastructure and our health care providers in the Department of Surgery were quick to pivot into the new model, finding added benefits in the process.

Better access to care

Katherine Morgan MD“When Governor McMaster placed a COVID-19 moratorium on elective surgery last March, much of our practice quickly turned to a Telehealth model,” said Katherine Morgan, M.D., chief of Gastrointestinal and Laparoscopic Surgery. “Our practice continues to incorporate telehealth with about 20 percent of our patients currently seen through virtual visits.”

Patient feedback has been very positive, especially those who are at higher risk or live far away.

Morgan says her practice serves the region for pancreatic cancer and upper GI malignancies and pancreatitis, with many patients traveling from Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. For many of these patients, Telehealth has been a wonderful experience.

“We adjusted and modified our model and now have a telehealth format that is systematized to offer care for our tertiary referrals,” she said. “Patients have the advantage of using MUSC Health from the comfort of their own home, often with a family member by their side. The added stress of traveling from another state is removed, and they can focus on their health.”

She adds that this model of care is a result of the strong teamwork in her division.

More purposeful visits

Derek DuBay MDTransplant patients on immunosuppressants have weakened immune systems and are at greater risk of complications due to COVID. The transplant team quickly incorporated Telehealth visits for post-transplant patients, who were at a higher risk of complications should they contract COVID-19.“

We use Telehealth visits to monitor their post-operative recovery remotely to reduce COVID exposure risk,” said Derek DuBay, M.D., chief of Transplant Surgery. “After learning from these experiences, we realized that Telehealth afforded tremendous benefits for patients undergoing a transplant evaluation, as well.”

The transplant team now screens pre-transplant patients and potential living donors. These visits include social workers who are able to give their full undivided attention to the patient during the hour long session. 

Provided the patient can move forward, all necessary testing is ordered and an in-person visit is coordinated all from the telemedicine visit.

“When the in-person visit occurs, it is a purposeful and efficient process orchestrated from the initial telemedicine visit,” said DuBay. “Since the evaluation process is now streamlined through an upfront Telehealth visit, we are surprisingly able to see more patients in a way that is convenient for them.”

He adds that since they have implemented these changes using the Telehealth model, their patient satisfaction scores have never been higher.