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COVID-19 Boosts the Use of Telemedicine by Local Healthcare Providers

by Nancy Kennedy

The doctor is in – in your living room, kitchen or office.

Telemedicine, the capacity to connect with your physicians electronically for a virtual office visit, has surged in popularity in recent months due in no small part to the social distancing required by the COVID-19 pandemic. Doctors and patients alike are discovering the ease and convenience of electronic medical appointments. Even before the emergence of the novel coronavirus, the use of telemedicine was slowly growing across the U.S., and has been widely used by long term care facilities and by rural hospitals and health centers for consulting specialists.

Mario J. Fatigati, M.D., F.A.C.P., C.M.D, associate chief medical officer for St. Clair Medical Services and a primary care physician, believes that telemedicine deserves a place in healthcare, although it will never replace good old fashioned, hands-on primary care. “We are learning, as we use telemedicine more and more, that there are places where it is very useful. In my experience, it is best for dealing with specific, single medical issues such as a rash that can be addressed without a hands-on exam. In those cases, I can still assess my patient by getting the history and visualizing the problem on camera. Another application of telemedicine is for follow-up care, when a patient has been seen and had treatment and we are checking in with them to see how they are doing.”

Telemedicine uses a video conferencing platform like Skype or Facetime to connect the patient, at home or even at work, to their physicians – PCPs and specialists – for high tech outpatient appointments. Many hospitals and medical centers have their own systems that patients can log onto. The requirements are that the patient must have a smart phone, laptop, tablet or desktop computer equipped with a camera, microphone and an Internet connection. Once you’ve had your first experience with it, it’s easy to do.

The advantages of telemedicine are obvious: you can receive care in the comfort of home, without leaving and having to deal with bad weather, traffic, parking and their costs; it limits your exposure to others who may be carrying a contagious infection, keeping you safe; and it’s fast and efficient. For older adults and persons with disabilities for whom mobility and access are difficult, telemedicine is an excellent solution.

There is no need to worry about the confidentiality of medical information – the technology is designed to maintain HIPAA standards. If there are technical difficulties, all is not lost – a phone conversation can substitute in many instances.

Dr. Fatigati, who is board-certified in geriatrics and internal medicine, also finds that telemedicine is a useful tool for managing the care of patients who are very ill and at home, unable to come to the office. These patients, who may have advanced cancer or heart failure, are often receiving home healthcare services. With telemedicine, he says, physicians can connect with the homecare providers and follow the patient. “The nurses have I-pads and they can send us pictures of wounds or clinical signs and keep in touch with us.”

Dr. Fatigati is the founder of Fatigati-Nalin Associates, part of St. Clair Medical Services, which is the employed physician network of St. Clair Health Corporation, and one of the largest physician practices in the South Hills. He serves as Executive Medical Director for Allegheny County’s four Kane Community Living Centers for skilled nursing and rehab care. The Pennsylvania chapter of the American College of Physicians (PA-ACP) honored Dr. Fatigati with the prestigious 2018 Clinical Practice Award.

If you would like to learn more about telemedicine, visit www.stclair.org/telemedicine and watch the introductory video. There is also a listing of the primary care providers and medical specialty physicians who are using telemedicine with their patients.

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