NEWPORT — As Dr. Umair Malik and his family were homeward bound from a trip to Japan in early March, he says he looked forward to getting back to his routine of seeing his patients each day at North Country Primary Care in Newport.
Before landing, North County Primary Care Director Laurie Stewart contacted Dr. Malik and they worked together by phone on creating a Telehealth plan to best serve patients without having to cancel appointments upon his return.
Out of an abundance of caution, though Japan was not a hot spot for Coronavirus at the time, the agreement was that the doctor would go into quarantine for 14 days and see his patients via telehealth.
Dr. Malik said that he knew it was the right thing to do.
It seemed like a good time to take the leap, and in no time the physician was communicating with his patients via HIPPA compliant Zoom consultation.
“Healthcare is way behind other industries in this department, with government regulations and reimbursement issues being obstacles to overcome,” Dr. Malik said.
Because of the pandemic, last month the U.S. Senate passed the CARES Act, which includes a provision expanding Medicare telehealth services to rural health clinics.
Most commercial insurance companies have followed their lead.
“We are now headed in the right direction,” Dr. Malik said.
A benefit of the telehealth office visit is the example of a patient who lives an hour away with transportation issues or has a health condition that makes it difficult to physically get into the office.
Through telehealth, the physician is able to have good conversations in an information protected environment, with the ability to still assess patients with respiratory questions.
Now that the 14-day quarantine has passed, Dr. Malik wonders if some of those patients with challenges getting into the office might be better served through telehealth on a permanent basis, at least for some of those appointments.
This has since expanded to all primary care providers and medical home staff in both Newport and Barton clinics, allowing them to care for patients and honoring the reduction of unnecessary outings for community members in the face of COVID 19.
Patients are offered the choice of coming into the office if they’re feeling well, meeting with their provider via telehealth, or rescheduling for a future date.
Primary Care provides a safe environment for patients who do need to be seen in person.
“We’re not letting just any patient in,” said Laurie Stewart. “We see healthy patients who need to be seen in person for chronic health conditions during early morning appointments, and we have a separate entrance, separate staff, and designated exam rooms for those who present with any respiratory illness.”
Dr. malik says these patients still need their healthcare, and they don’t want to see a surge of chronically ill patients late summer or early fall who have to be admitted to the hospital because they weren’t taken care of.
“Telehealth feedback has been very positive from our patients, allowing us to continue to take care of acute and chronic issues, refill medications, address concerns, answer questions and generally reassure at a time of unknowns and stress,” Stewart added.
She says patients can feel confident there are care options with their doctor, especially when there is a sense of isolation during Governor Scott’s directive to stay home.