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Author Credentials

William J. Crump, M.D. Diana M. Nims, M.D. Douglas J. Hatler, M.D.

Keywords

access to care, family medicine, utilization of health services

Disciplines

Family Medicine | Medical Education | Medicine and Health Sciences

Abstract

Telemedicine has been used for over a generation, but application has been limited in rural areas by lack of payment, licensure issues, cumbersome video equipment, and challenges with digital communications. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, our rural family medicine residency made a rapid shift to all telemedicine services for our patients.

We collected data on a 4-week period in April 2020 as we transitioned to 100% telemedicine consultations. We compare that to a 4-week period prior to mid-March when activities were normal for us. We collected detailed visit summaries, patient feedback, and physician feedback and compared these two periods.

Early in the pandemic, telemedicine visits were increased for those with chronic respiratory and cardiovascular issues, along with anxiety and depression. Patient and physician feedback was positive and time required averaged 12 to 18 minutes.

The cost savings from the 15% who would have sought urgent or emergency care is significant. Almost 45% would have still made an appointment later, further risking exposure and increasing outpatient volume later. In this sense, telemedicine could be considered to have “flattened the curve” for potentially overwhelmed outpatient facilities much in the way that mitigation interventions were implemented to do the same for acute inpatient beds.

We share our experience for consideration by those who will implement a similar transition as well as those who choose to advocate for continuing payment and platform flexibility. We also hope that residency training requirements can adapt to consider a telemedicine visit comparable to one completed in person.

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