Even before the coronavirus prompted widespread stay-at-home orders, leaders at Samaritan Health Services reacted quickly to the pandemic by temporarily closing many clinics and offering alternative ways of accessing care. Expanding already-existing telehealth options was one alternative that remains popular today.
“While telehealth was already in use at Samaritan for some specialty care, it wasn’t used as widely as it is now,” said Kristy Jessop, MD, senior medical director for Samaritan’s primary care clinics in Corvallis. “We have discovered that telehealth is not an inferior substitute for face-to-face care, but another means of patient care that makes sense in many situations, especially for those who are highly susceptible to infection or who are homebound. But it’s also a good option for someone who is strapped for time.”
Using a computer or smartphone and video technology, patients and health care providers can see each other and converse as they would during a typical in-person appointment. However, patients don’t need to leave their home for an appointment. In some cases, opting for a telehealth appointment will allow patients quicker access to a provider than a traditional clinic visit.
“Telehealth is not appropriate for every situation, certainly, but I do think it gives us another very useful tool in caring for our patients,” said Dr. Jessop.
In this new COVID-19 climate, Samaritan support groups have been meeting virtually as well.
Patty Kinion, a social worker with Samaritan Evergreen Hospice, now leads online grief groups for people whose loved ones have died. She shared that while the format was an adjustment at first, the groups are working well now.
“Group members were so glad to connect in the group, to see and hear each other, and offer support and resources again. It was really a special thing,” Kinion said. “For those who are physically vulnerable plus completely isolated from others, this connection is priceless to them.” She noted another benefit of this new way of connecting.
“Meeting virtually allows us to support people wherever they are — even if they live in another state, as can be the case with some loved ones of patients who’ve died,” said Kinion. “Previously, we didn’t offer grief support to family and friends who don’t live nearby, but now, anyone who has lost a loved one can participate. It’s been well-received.”
Time will tell, though many health care industry experts predict that virtual options will continue to become a mainstay of patient care well after the pandemic subsides.
Samaritan is also offering health seminars as virtual events. Visit the Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies page to register for a class, see the schedule or watch recordings of past seminars.