Telemedicine expanding health care services for patients

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Telemedicine has made access to healthcare a bit easier, according to local healthcare professionals. Gov. Greg Abbott waived regulations for telemedicine care in March, and approved the expansion of telehealth options in April, in response to COVID-19.

Bill Eubanks, Senior VP and Chief Integration Officer for University Medical Center, said providing the service to patients is important.

“It’s allowed patients to stay at home and continue to be isolated. That’s certainly been beneficial for our most at risk patients,” Eubanks said.

Abbott waived restrictions so doctors can receive payments for appointments done over the phone, instead of in-person in an effort to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In April, Abbott expanded the options to allow the use of smart phones or “any audio-visual, real-time, or two-way interactive communication system to qualify as a telecommunications technology.” The waivers applied to speech pathologists, behavior analysts, and audiologists, etc.

“We’ve actually seen a five-fold increase in our virtual care, telemedicine visits,” Eubanks said.

Not only does it help in the age of coronavirus, it also helps folks living in rural communities–common in West Texas.

“We can use this technology to provide follow-up appointments or access to care that folks in rural areas may not have easy access to,” Eubanks said.

During a time of uncertainty, Dr. Sarah Wakefield, Department Chair of Psychiatry at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, said they have seen an increase in calls within the past few months.

“Our no-show rate has gone down compared to where it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wakefield said.

Wakefield added mental health professionals are already difficult to come by, whether a patient lives in a rural community or not, but telemedicine can help bridge the gap–making healthcare more accessible.

“It’s allowed us to provide the same level of care in almost every instance that we can in person,” Wakefield said.

For information about UMC’s virtual care services, visit their website at https://www.umchealthsystem.com/virtual-care

Information about TTUHSC telemedicine services can also be found at https://www.ttuhsc.edu/telemedicine/default.aspx

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