The future of patient care

Melody Hu and Elle Myers

As COVID-19 numbers dwindle, doctors have continued to use digital health care as a part of their practices. Because of the challenges the pandemic presented, doctors and their clinics needed to find ways to meet with patients safely. Many turned to digital solutions such as telehealth, which allows doctors to meet with patients online.

Depending on the doctors and their clinics, they used different tools to meet with patients virtually. Generally, they used video call software so they could see and hear patients in real time, including Zoom, Google Meets or FaceTime.

Dr. Alecia Nero, a hematologist who specializes in Sickle Cell Disease at UT Southwestern, said before COVID-19, her weekly routine consisted of scheduled appointments, lab reviews and medication or treatment prescriptions. During the pandemic, she shifted to telehealth to protect her staff and patients, especially before the vaccine was readily

“Telehealth allowed doctors to deliver care to patients but then minimize the frequency and length of time you are in physical contact with a patient mostly in the clinic,” Nero said.

Nero does not believe society is completely post-COVID because she is still diagnosing patients weekly. Although virtual visits do not fully replace in-person visits at her clinic, they provide an option for patients who have difficulty getting around or have multiple doctor’s appointments.

Dr. Socorro Chamblee, an otolaryngologist who works at UT Southwestern, said she believes in the benefits of telehealth, but the majority of her patients still need physical exams. Chamblee said she tries to involve her patients
with their care as much as possible.

During COVID-19 there were multiple restrictions about social distancing, which left her unable to deliver care as
thoroughly as she would have liked.

Chamblee said in some instances she was able to offer the same quality of care, but it was difficult to deliver the same level of care to about 60-70% of her patients. She said she believes in the benefits of virtual visits especially for patients who are looking for less-involved visits and those who live out of state.

Telehealth for Chamblee was a way to check up on her patients during the pandemic, and she said she will continue to use this tool as a way to do quick check-ins.

Senior Allison Lanners had a virtual visit with her doctor during the pandemic to discuss allergies and asthma. The doctor mainly asked her questions to see how she was doing and looked at her through the screen. Because of the nature of the visit, Lanners’ doctor was not able to use machines to check her asthma, but the virtual visit worked well for a quick check in.

“Other than not being able to use the machine, nothing was different,” Lanners said. “I told him that the medicine he prescribed me was working well, and the visit was short.”

Lanners said telehealth was the best way to meet with doctors and health care
providers during the pandemic, but as in-person visits are becoming available, she prefers to go to the clinic so her doctors can use machines and devices. Although she said she enjoys in-person visits, she still meets with her doctors virtually if she has a quick question or needs to talk about a prescription change or website.