The University of Kansas Health System reports a lower number of COVID-19 patients today. Nine people with the active virus are being treated, down from 11 yesterday. Of those patients, three are in the ICU, down from five yesterday. One of those patients is on a ventilator, down from two yesterday. 17 other patients are still hospitalized because of COVID-19 but are out of the acute infection phase, down from 18 yesterday. That’s a total of 26 patients, down from 29 yesterday. HaysMed has 3 total patients, same as yesterday with two active COVID-19 inpatients, and one in the recovery phase.
On today’s Morning Media Update we focused on the explosive growth of telehealth during the pandemic. Our experts include Jason Grundstrom, Executive Director of Continuum of Care here at the health system, Dr. Keith Sale, our VP of Ambulatory Medicine and Dr. Phillip Newlin, Chief Medical Officer Ascension Medical Group Via Christi. They discussed supply and demand, benefits to patients and providers and what the future could hold.
A statewide poll of Kansans showed 86% support expanding or maintaining telehealth services once the pandemic ends. Jason Grundstrom called telehealth the one “silver lining” to the pandemic. He explained how the public health emergency allowed a lot of barriers to be eliminated which prevented the widespread use of this tool. Before the pandemic, the health system was seeing about 100 patients a month using telehealth. But last April, after most healthcare providers had postponed in person visits, the health system saw 33,000 patients through telehealth in that month alone. It’s since leveled off to about 1000 patients a day, but doctors now see telehealth as a vital part of their practice, especially for patients who live a long way from the office. He said the huge ramp-up in the service was made possible by $3 million in Federal grants, which also allowed 22 rural hospitals to be connected to this service. His biggest concern is that unless the temporary laws that allowed for the huge expansion of telehealth are extended when they expire at the end of this month, telehealth as we now know it will expire as well. He notes the health system is working with lawmakers to do whatever they can to keep these laws in place, especially after the public health emergency is declared over.
Dr. Newlin says telehealth has been a godsend for the State of Kansas, where much of the population lives in rural areas. He calls it a “big advantage” for small towns where there may be only one doctor and no specialists nearby to now have real time collaboration with experts. He also says it’s been a big plus for his pediatric practice to be able to see some sick kids without having them come to the office and risk spreading their illness. It’s also helped in some of his mental health visits to be able to see his patients in their home environment. He says telehealth was very useful in the early stages of the pandemic when some people were afraid to come for emergency care but could still be evaluated through that video link. He thinks eventually COVID-19 will become a “simmer” that we can live with and adjust our healthcare delivery to match that “simmering” level.
Dr. Sale says patients like telehealth, and even though every practice at the health system has found a way to use the technology, it will not replace face to face visits. He adds that it’s a myth that older patients won’t be able to figure it out and says most have done an amazing job connecting. He also says telehealth can be used for urgent care visits, though not outside of regular urgent care office hours. He says it’s important to try to maintain this tool in our toolkit and to do what we can to help it grow.
Dana Hawkinson, MD, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at The University of Kansas Health System, recounted a telehealth visit he had last week with a patient who was hospitalized and lives five hours away. He says it was a very productive visit and the patient is doing well. He advises us that the pandemic is far from over and warns with spring break and a letdown in mask wearing, we may see another surge of cases in a couple of weeks. He says too many people and not enough masks is a still a dangerous combination and with warm weather coming we have to resist the temptation to let up observing the pillars of infection prevention.
Steve Stites, MD, chief medical officer at The University of Kansas Health System, predicts that with the increased supply of vaccines, the time is quickly coming when it will be available to anyone who wants it, regardless of age or health. He says that will be a great day for celebration and urges everyone to get your vaccine as soon as it’s available. He says telemedicine is one of our most important tools for reaching out to patients. He calls it a “blessing,” and can’t imagine taking it away.
Friday, March 19 at 8:00 a.m. is the next Morning Media Update.
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