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Telehealth options offer an alternative to sitting in a waiting room

While keeping people distanced from each other during the current public health emergency is critical to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the people of Wisconsin still require health care – related to COVID-19 or not. Using computers, tablets, cellphones, and other technology to conduct health care visits at a distance, known as telehealth, can help people get care in a way that protects both patients and health care providers.

“Never has the option of telehealth been more critical than at a time when we are asking people to stay home, especially people who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19,” said Andrea Palm, secretary-designee Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). “Using telehealth will help reduce exposures and keep our valued healthcare providers and others safe.”

Dr. Larry Gordon, a Weston-based regional health director with Aspirus Health System works closely with the telehealth options available in the Aspirus network.

He explains that Aspirus offers three levels of telehealth opportunities all of which are available through the myaspirus. org website. They include: e-visits, telephone visits, and video visits.

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The e-visit is the most basic where a patient is prompted to enter their symptoms. Physicians then review the information and follow up with the patient about treatment options or other questions. The service is staffed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and responses are usually received within two hours. Dr. Gordon explained that someone my describe the symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) or possible strep throat and the response from the doctor will be that they have set up an appointment to stop at one of the Aspirus locations to have lab work or additional tests done.

Dr. Gordon noted that people displaying symptoms like sudden chest pain and other potentially life threatening conditions should still rely on coming in to the emergency room.

Dr. Gordon said the next level of service is having a telephone visit. This is scheduled just like an office visit would be, but it is done over the telephone. He said this is useful for follow-up appointments where the doctor doesn’t have to physically see the patient such as dealing with mental health follow-ups. A third level of telehealth option is a video conferencing visit. This allows the doctor to have a face-to-face conversation with the patient and allows them the opportunity to pick up on non-verbal clues like facial expressions when dealing with discomfort.

Like telephone visits, the video conferencing is scheduled just like a normal doctor’s appointment, but it is done over the a secure videoconferencing platform. The patient will need access to a cellphone, tablet or other device that can transmit and receive video images.

Again, while beneficial in many cases. Dr. Gordon said it as all telehealth options has limitations. He compared it to talking with a mechanic about getting a car repaired. At some point it will be necessary to bring the car into the shop for the work to take place.

He explained that telehealth opportunities may eliminate the need for some physical trips to the doctor’s offi ce but won’t eliminate them entirely and always people should err on caution and call 9-1-1 in emergency situations.

Not all health care visits can use a telehealth format, but there are many that can, ranging from appointments where a doctor may want to assess if there’s a need for an in-person visit, to behavioral health sessions that are important parts of ongoing treatment plans. Patients should work with their providers to figure out what telehealth options are available for them.