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Is Telemedicine Here To Stay?

Premier Health health care telemedicine telehealth
WYSO/Jess Mador

It started with sweats and a sour taste in his mouth. Harold Holdren, a retired bartender in Kettering, had these strange but mild symptoms for a week. Then, things got a lot worse.

“I woke up one day and it felt like there was an elephant sitting on my chest. You cannot take a full breath, it’s impossible,” he said. “Your lungs, it just felt like they were burning from the inside out.” 

His doctor was bombarded with patients at the time and couldn’t see him in person. But his doctor’s office told him he could do an e-visit using Premier Health Network’s online portal MyChart. He selected his symptoms from pull-down menus, and wrote out a description of how he was feeling.

His doctor wrote back in just a couple of hours, and said it sounded like coronavirus with pneumonia and bronchitis. He told Holdren to stay home, and prescribed him medication. 

“This was a whole new thing to me, and it felt really strange because for 40-something years we've been seeing our doctors and this time we didn't see the doctor. We were doing everything basically over email,” he said. “But I have to say, without a doubt, using that system, it saved my life.”  

Telemedicine is not just a whole new thing for patients like Holdren. Amid all of the stress and chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, many doctors in the Miami Valley are also figuring out how to use telehealth services for the first time. Dr. Gary LeRoy is the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians and a physician at the East Dayton Health Center. About a month ago he started officially using telehealth for the first time after practicing medicine for almost 30 years.

He is currently doing some appointments over the phone, but he said the process of transitioning to remote visits has been clunky. Video conferencing is not always an option for a lot of his older and low-income patients.

“You can't take it for granted that everybody has high-speed internet. You can't take it for granted that everybody has a cell phone. Some of my seniors have little flip phones,” he said. “A lot of my patients do not have computers. They do not have high-speed internet. And especially in this current crisis where people are losing their jobs.”

Technology is also a roadblock for some rural communities in Southwest Ohio, where the internet can be spotty. Ryan Taylor works as a mental health counselor at a mental health clinical practice in Troy. She recently started using the telehealth video conferencing system Doxy.me, but it has been a challenge for some of her clients in northern Miami County.

“We tried initially to do video conferencing for their appointments. We kind of got a little frustrated with it. It was hiccuping or staggering,” she said. 

She has opted to just do audio calls with some patients. She is also doing sessions outside of normal business hours, when fewer people are using the internet for work and school. Even though she has had technical difficulties, she thinks telemedicine may be here to stay. 

“I don't think I'll ever step away from telehealth because I see the benefits,” she said. “I don't see this going away. In fact, probably [there will be] more opportunities for growth as it becomes normalized inside of a practice setting.” 

Some patients are also looking to the future. Michelle Praul of Beavercreek recently had her first virtual health visit for a physical therapy appointment. She propped up her iPad in her bedroom and her physical therapist guided her through exercises.

“We are all much more aware of contagion right now,” she said. “Even going forward when the crisis is over, I'm going to be much more aware of being around other people when I'm sick.”

She said even after the pandemic, if she has a cold or sore throat, she would take advantage of telehealth to keep herself and others safe. 

While working at the station Leila Goldstein has covered the economic effects of grocery cooperatives, police reform efforts in Dayton and the local impact of the coronavirus pandemic on hiring trends, telehealth and public parks. She also reported Trafficked, a four part series on misinformation and human trafficking in Ohio.