Just a month ago the waiting area at Russell Medical’s Total Healthcare was typically filled with patients — but not now.

Many of its patients still visit with doctors and staff at Total Healthcare, just not in person. Dr. Robert Edwards said he had grown accustomed to seeing many of his patients dressed up coming to his office. Now, Edwards sees many of his patients in their homes via their camera phones by using telemedicine.

“Now we are seeing them sitting on their couch,” Edwards said. “Many haven’t changed clothes as if they are coming to the office.”

The idea of telemedicine is not new as it has been allowed under Medicare and often practiced when patients are long distances from doctor’s offices in states such as Montana and Alaska. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more insurance companies have allowed primary care providers to extend their services via telemedicine to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“We are trying to keep the office free of sick people,” Edwards said. “It is so if we have to bring someone in for an X-ray or bloodwork the environment is better for the patient.”

Edwards said telemedicine allows him to treat a patient from a distance who could be susceptible to COVID-19.

“It allows me to treat diabetes or high blood pressure patients and not chance exposing them,” Edwards said. “I can treat other patients too. We are treating some patients via telemedicine who think they may have COVID-19. If that’s the case, I order up a test for them next door at the hospital. Some cases are clearly not COVID.”

Edwards said he is seeing nearly 70% of patients via telemedicine currently. Certain patients still need to come to the office to be treated and those will be prescreened before entering Edwards’ office. 

“It’s a good thing right now,” Edwards said. “Most things we can treat via telemedicine. It protects everyone. Some people you still have to see in person.”

When patients come to the office, Edwards said more precautions are taken.

“We use a lot of (personal protective equipment),” Edwards said. “The exam rooms are wiped down and sanitized even more than before to protect everyone.”

The program Total Healthcare uses for telemedicine appointments makes it easy for patients.

“I have done a lot of visits with 80-year-olds, even some 90-year-olds,” Edwards said. “The way it works is it sends the patient a text message to their cell phone asking permission for me to use the camera on their phone. They just have to agree. There are no downloads or signups for them. It makes it easy.”

Edwards said it is refreshing to see his patients in their homes and to see their faces reacting positively to visits over video chats.

“Seeing people on the screen, it helps us connect like they are in the office,” Edwards said. 

Edwards is even treating COVID-19 positive patients via telemedicine.

“They are quarantining at home,” Edwards said. “We are able to check on them using telemedicine. It’s better than using just the phone. Seeing their face and seeing they are recovering brightens everyone’s day.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.