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Virtual Health Emerges as Safe Choice for Seniors During COVID-19

June 29, 2020

An older woman was worried about a cat bite she had that wasn’t healing and she feared going to her doctor’s office.

Jessica Dakin, Geriatric Care Program Manager of Hartford HealthCare Center for Healthy Aging, checked on her client at home and realized it was a medical problem that could be addressed through a virtual video visit with the physician. It wasn’t long before the wound was assessed, antibiotics were prescribed and the woman was on her way to healing.

This case is one of thousands of examples of how Hartford HealthCare Community Network has been using virtual health, or telemedicine. The latter term, first used in 1968, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the practice of medicine when the doctor and patient are widely separated using two-way voice and visual communication.” It is impossible to calculate the number of times this method has been used since it was first defined.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual visits have been skyrocketing. In the Hartford HealthCare system, there were more than 100,000 real-time health consultations in a two-month period. Of these, almost 5,000 users were new to virtually connecting with their physician.

Each of the service lines within Hartford HealthCare Community Network has found the telemedicine extremely helpful. Among those using it are the assisted living communities: Mulberry Gardens of Southington, The Orchards at Southington and Cedar Mountain Commons as well as the skilled nursing facilities including Southington Care Center, Jefferson House and Jerome Home (which is managed by Hartford HealthCare Senior Services).

Virtual care is available through computer, smartphone or tablet. The physician’s office establishes a video conferencing connection with the patient, allowing both parties to be able to see each other. It can be used for primary care visits, common problems and prescription refills. But it is not appropriate for severe problems or emergencies – in those instances, an in-person office or emergency department visit may be warranted.

Telehealth consultations are not only more convenient, they are safer for patients and providers. Dakin usually transports and accompanies her clients from the home to their physicians’ in-person appointments.

“Most of my clients are glad to be able to see their provider even if it is just over the screen,” Dakin said. “This gives better access to care especially when leaving the home can be a challenge.”

Mulberry Gardens just started using the virtual method. Recently, an 81-year-old woman had a follow-up “visit” facilitated by Megan Nawrocki of the Wellness Department. Mulberry Gardens Executive Director Jacquelyn Gaulin said she anticipates it will become more common even after societal restrictions are lifted.

At Southington Care Center, providers have been using the video connection for wound assessments between the physician, resident and wound-care nurse.

“We absolutely will continue to use this,” said William Kowalewski, Executive Director of Southington Care Center.

Telehealth is also being used for behavioral health and urgent care, as well as pharmacy consultations. Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network has been using it for outpatient visits, allowing therapists to guide patients as they perform exercises at home rather than physically going to an actual office.

Hartford HealthCare medical practices are able to arrange virtual visits. To connect with a provider or to learn more about using telehealth, click here.