HealthLinks Charleston May/June 2022

16 | www. Char l es tonPhys i c i ans . com | www.Hea l thL i nksChar l es ton . com Telehealth is an umbrella term for a number of methodologies, including virtual visits that connect physician and patient through visual and audio technology, phone calls and the sharing of data from wearable or implantable devices. Prior to COVID, fewer than 1% of patient medical visits were done remotely, while at the height of the pandemic, that number rose to 45%, according to Helping to drive adaptation across the board is an increasing acceptance of wearable tech and a focus on increasing development of new medical devices utilizing artificial intelligence and driven by the accessibility of 5G networks. Technology has always been a part of Dr. Darren Sidney’s practice. Dr. Sidney is an electrophysiologist with Charleston Heart Specialists, where implantable tech – pacemakers, defibrillators and wearable heart monitors – have been around for years. Electrophysiologists specialize in treating heart rhythm issues so their patients are used to being monitored remotely. “All the devices we implant have remote capability,” explained Dr. Sidney. “So we can see what their heart rhythm is doing from anywhere in the world.” New wearable devices such as KardiaMobile’s EKG, Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, now approved as Class II medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration, are helping Dr. Sidney consult with patients without bringing them into the office. “Every day, I get emails from patients sending me strips,” said Dr. Sidney, who is on staff at Trident Medical Center. “More often than not, we’re talking them off the ledge. But sometimes we do find something abnormal, and we’re able to prescribe medication, walk them through some things or triage the situation – like do they have to come into the office or go to the ER.” For his specialty, this immediate access to information is critical. He anticipates some of the implantable tech will fall off as more and more patients become tech savvy and comfortable with wearable tech. But a big part in the equation, he believes, will be whether insurance companies develop codes to make charting and billing for telehealth visits easier and if they ever cover wearables such as FDA-approved smart watches. “That will open the floodgates,” he said. “It will be a game changer.” Communicating health data with your physician is one modality under the telehealth umbrella. Another is visits, which Dr. Sidney’s practice offers but does only a few each month. “My preference for a first-time visit is in person,” he admitted, adding that “by the time they get to me, most patients have seen a primary care doc, a cardiologist and have had some kind of imaging. A lot of times, we know what the plan for these patients is before we even meet them.” That’s not the case for Dr. Steven Newman, a primary care physician with Poinsett Family Practice in Greenville. TELEHEALTH By the Numbers Today, 80% of employers believe telehealth will be a significant part of health care delivery in the future.** 91% of employers will offer telehealth service for mental health.** Prior to the pandemic, patients nationally waited an average of 24 DAYS for a medical appointment and spent less than 18 MINUTES with the physician.** The Health and Human Services Administration found that the highest share of video telehealth visits were used by adults 18 TO 34, those making more than $100,000, those with private insurance and those who were white. They were lowest among those without a high school diploma, older adults, Latinos, Asians and Blacks. (*Source: ASPE - Office of Health Policy) The CDC reports that as COVID took hold, 41% of U.S. adults delayed or avoided in-person medical visits. Telehealth helped resolve the problem with virtual care providers able to see a higher volume of patients, often outside typical office hours. (*Source: Forbes) 58.5% of telehealth users are female.* 28.7% of telehealth users are between 51 AND 70.* 70.5% are white.* *Source: Trilliant Health.** Source: Merritt Hawkins. Dr. Darren Sidney Dr. Steven Newman