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How Virtual Health Visit Can Help Diagnose COVID-19

March 20, 2020

Dr. Mark Prete, Hartford HealthCare Senior Vice President and Hartford HealthCare Medical Group President, discusses virtual health’s role during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond in a March 19 visit with WTNH, Channel 8.

Here is an edited version of the interview:

Q: So let’s talk telemedicine. How does this work and how effective is it?
A: Well, telemedicine is not a new concept. It really is a way to facilitate a patient encounter with a clinician using a platform that’s integrated with our EMR (electronic medical records) for an appropriate visit. So what I mean by appropriate is important. So it’s a visit that is not an emergency, and most urgent care can be handled this way, but it’s also a visit that doesn’t require a lot of physical-exam components.

Q: Can someone be a first-time user and use telemedicine?
A: Absolutely. In fact, what we did in this COVID response is that we aligned ourselves with our Command Center (860.972.8100 or, toll-free, 833.621.0600) and we created a virtual health platform just for COVID. That really facilitated our ability to communicate with our patients and screen out those who may need further testing. So it was a perfect example.

Q: Can you talk us through a typical telehealth visit? What can a patient expect?
A: We’re able to build a platform, let’s say for COVID, to schedule a visit with a patient after we screen them and then we can either launch an audio or a video component.

Once it’s integrated, and you have the right platform, we found that probably 75 percent of the encounters can be handled by audio, but the beauty is that we’re looking at their Epic (medical) record and can clearly see what their other medical problems are and . . .  the screening protocols that we think are very important for testing.

Q: So what’s the future for telehealth? Is there a plan to expand this service? Is it working well?
A: Yes, absolutely. Because we built the platform, we were quickly able to pivot toward primary care. So we’re launching the same platform that was very successful with COVID for all of our primary care doctors in the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group to be used for patients that are calling their offices.

And next week, we’re going to be launching the same platform for specialists because we think it could be used for non-COVID visits related to things like cardiovascular surgery follow-up vascular surgery neurology, stroke, movement disorders, general surgery and bariatrics. So that’s going to happen. It’s going to quickly expand.

Q: Interesting, how can someone sign up? Where do they go?
A: Anybody who’s in the Medical Group at Hartford HealthCare through their MyChart can launch the television platform. We’re asking them to call their primary-care doctor or those that are covered related they’re going through our command center. That’s how we’re distributing it right now.

Q: Dr. Prete, we’re hearing about a possible shortage of coronavirus tests. Bring us up to speed on what your system has are you on a shortage of test. Are you limiting who can get tested? 
A: Yes, it was very important that we we understand what our capability is. We know the pathway for testing is changing daily, so right now we think that in order to preserve our testing capability we want to make sure that we’re testing the right people. So for me that means those that are over 60 and have what we call comorbidities or that are compromised. We do it that way so we can . . . preserve our tests.

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