At Northwell, the doctor will Zoom you now

Tele me more: Northwell Health is doubling down on its telehealth services.
By TERRY LYNAM //

Even as the world focuses attention and resources on COVID-19, it is also crucial to take heed of other illnesses and injuries that may require medical attention.

As we all work toward a new normal during these unprecedented times, the healthcare professionals at Northwell Health are doing everything possible to keep our communities and our colleagues safe.

“We would never want to make patients feel as if they’re abandoned just because we are putting most of our resources toward the crisis,” notes Jeffrey Kuvin, chairman of cardiology at North Shore University Hospital, Long Island Jewish Medical Center and the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.

“We are ready to provide care as we normally would,” Kuvin adds.

However, it can be hard to know when or if to see your doctor when social distancing is still the norm and infectious disease experts and elected officials are urging the aged, fragile and immunocompromised to shelter in place.

Terry Lynam: Communication with physicians is key.

Telehealth, conducting official visits and consultations with your doctor over webcam and through chat functions, is quickly becoming a universal healthcare practice, and Northwell is expanding these services in response.

Along with virtual visitations and upgrades to our teleICU, more than 4,000 Northwell clinicians are now connecting with patients at home via AmWell’s app and desktop applications. Martin Doerfler, senior vice president of clinical strategy and development, calls the service “BYOD” – bring your own device.

“As long as you have a computer with a webcam, or an iOS or Android device, you can connect with us,” he says.

If you had any doubts about the growing popularity of telehealth, consider this: From March 24 to April 26, Northwell clinicians performed more than 52,000 telehealth visits in outpatient settings.

Telehealth has proven vital for seniors, who are at the greatest risk of COVID-19 and who cannot leave their homes.

With high-resolution image clarity on monitors and mobile devices, telehealth works for just about any non-emergent medical consultation – pediatrics, dermatology and behavioral health, as well as follow-up for serious conditions.

For example, people with congestive heart failure require close monitoring and traditionally visited their physicians to ensure their blood pressure, weight and swelling from fluid retention were in check. According to Kuvin, telehealth works well for such monitoring.

“We can check with patients remotely about their lifestyle, assess swelling and other symptoms, and discuss changes to their medication,” he says.

Similarly, remote evaluation works well for people whose pacemakers and defibrillators require monitoring.

This capability will soon modify follow-up care according to Nancy LaVine, an internal-medicine specialist who serves as medical director of Northwell’s internal medicine practice in Great Neck. “We’re rapidly figuring out that there’s a lot we can do for patients over the phone or with a video call that we previously scheduled an office visit for,” the doctor says.

It’s important to note that telehealth isn’t appropriate for emergency care. Take any sign of a medical emergency seriously and address it immediately. Heart attacks, strokes, broken bones and other emergencies still occur during the pandemic – and they still need care.

Medical facilities are safe. Many hospitals reserve “COVID-negative” rooms for those seeking care who don’t have symptoms or a diagnosis. So don’t hesitate to seek medical assistance if an emergency occurs.

Your health is a priority regardless of whether you’ve tested positive for COVID-19. If you’re unsure whether you need medical attention or have concerns about exposure, call your physician. The pandemic has shown the value of telehealth – but ultimately, close communication with your primary care doctor is the most important way to guard your health.

Terry Lynam is a senior vice president at Northwell Health, New York State’s largest healthcare provider and private employer.