Seeing leads to understanding. If you’re on the phone, you may need to convert the visit to a video consult at times so you can physically see the patient. For example, direct visualization of a patient calling about a rash would improve diagnostic accuracy.
One of the consequences of the pandemic is the dramatic growth of Telehealth and Telemedicine. But how can doctors and providers best care for their patients when they are not physically in front of them? What do doctors wish patients knew in order to make sure they are getting the best results even though they are not actually in the office? How can Telehealth approximate and even improve upon the healthcare that traditional doctors’ visits can provide?
In this interview series, called “Telehealth Best Practices; How To Best Care For Your Patients When They Are Not Physically In Front Of You” we are talking to successful Doctors, Dentists, Psychotherapists, Counselors, and other medical and wellness professionals who share lessons and stories from their experience about the best practices in Telehealth. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alan Dennington, M.D.
Dr. Dennington is Chief Medical Officer and co-founder of TimelyMD, the leading telehealth provider specializing in higher education. He believes so strongly in telemedicine’s ability to transform healthcare delivery for patients that he has made it his — and TimelyMD’s — mission to improve the well-being of college students by making virtual medical and mental health care accessible anytime, anywhere. A seasoned entrepreneur and emergency medicine physician, he has a wealth of healthcare experience, including serving in the emergency department at Baylor Grapevine and owning and operating an urgent care center in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I did my training in emergency medicine and started my career as an emergency room physician. After several years practicing and feeling that people were looking for easy access to on-demand care at a lower cost than an ER, I decided to open my own urgent care business. Telemedicine was a natural next step in that process and I co-founded TimelyMD with my two business partners Chris Clark and Luke Hejl in 2016.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I had the opportunity to provide medical care at Augusta National for the Masters Tournament during my residency. I was stationed at the “Amen Corner,” which is a famous and difficult part of the course. In addition to providing first aid, I also got to watch the greatest golfers play on the world’s most iconic course.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” It isn’t always easy to do but it helps give perspective. People aren’t always easy to deal with and it helps to try to think of how you would want to be treated.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There have been many people who helped me along the way in my career, but for a particular person, I would say my Dad. In addition to my parents supporting me through school, when I was starting my first business, my father was instrumental in helping me put together my business plan and other things I needed to do to succeed. I have been very lucky and grateful to have supportive parents. Everyone doesn’t have that advantage.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how doctors treat their patients. Many doctors have started treating their patients remotely. Telehealth can of course be very different than working with a patient that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity because it allows more people access to medical professionals, but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a patient in front of you?
TimelyMD’s explosive growth since the start of the pandemic indicates that telehealth is no longer a luxury, it’s an imperative. Just as there are advantages with telehealth, there will always be some advantages to in-person care, the most obvious one being the physical exam. Being able to look closely and feelthe affected area of patient can add valuable information. Being in-person also allows you to pick up on more body language and environmental clues, which are important in both medical and mental health.
On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a patient is not in the same space as the doctor?
The great majority of care is very similar between a virtual visit and an in-person one. The main challenge that arises is when a patient needs physical evaluation or treatment.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Best Care For Your Patients When They Are Not Physically In Front Of You ? (Please share a story or example for each.)
There are ways to get information on physical exam through a virtual session.
- Seeing leads to understanding. If you’re on the phone, you may need to convert the visit to a video consult at times so you can physically see the patient. For example, direct visualization of a patient calling about a rash would improve diagnostic accuracy.
- Be prepared to walk the patient through a self-exam so you can watch the patient perform the exam and coach them on what to feel for. This can be particularly helpful for conditions such as sore throat and evaluation of possible associated lymphadenopathy.
- Have the patient upload pictures of the affected area, such as a rash or a sore throat. This can help give you a closer up look than even a video visit might. A patient can often get a better picture of their throat then you can see through a video camera.
- Always perform the visit from a professional location. The patient experience and perception of the visit is still important. It might seem less formal with both parties being remote but maintaining the same level of professionalism as you would if the patient were in front of you can help improve compliance with treatment plans.
- If you can’t meet the standard of care through a virtual visit, refer the patient to in-person care. Everything can’t be treated remotely. If more information or exam is needed to provide quality care then let the patient know that and why that is the case and have them come to the office or be seen in-person.
Can you share a few ways that Telehealth can create opportunities or benefits that traditional in-office visits cannot provide? Can you please share a story or give an example?
Telehealth is like a food delivery app or grocery pick-up. You might not have tried it before the pandemic, and now you can’t imagine life without its ease of use and convenience.
The primary benefit of telehealth is ease of access. You can access a healthcare provider from anywhere and on your schedule. If you ever have to wait, you can do so from the convenience of wherever you happen to be rather than a crowded waiting room.
Privacy is another benefit. With telehealth, you have the privacy of doing the consult from your home, which can help patients feel more comfortable, particularly those seeking mental health support. Unfortunately, for many college students there’s still a stigma about walking into the campus counseling center. In fact, 60% of students who have sought mental health support from TimelyMD said they would have done nothing if the service were not available to them.
Telehealth is also a time-saver. Visits can happen quickly and necessary prescriptions can be sent in electronically shortly after the visit. You can have a telehealth appointment from your room and be picking up medication all within 30 minutes. With an in-person visit, it might take you longer than that to drive to the doctor and fill out the forms.
Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help facilitate Telehealth. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we really can do many things remotely that we used to do only in person — from family gatherings to professional meetings. Higher quality video capabilities and faster internet connectivity speeds have been very helpful to improving the telehealth experience for patients and providers.
If you could design the perfect Telehealth feature or system to help your patients, what would it be?
Artificial intelligence working to narrow a diagnosis with a patient prior to provider interaction. Collecting this valuable information in an intelligent way prior to an encounter would shorten consult times needed for patient and provider and provide additional cost savings and efficiency.
Are there things that you wish patients knew in order to make sure they are getting the best results even though they are not actually in the office?
The accuracy of depth of information provided by the patient to the provider matters. It may take a little extra time to give thorough information, but it actually saves more time than trying to correct misinformation after the fact.
The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring people together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?
VR technology is exciting. Also, the integration of patient health monitors into virtual systems provides the ability to help monitor problems and move toward prevention of illness as opposed to treatment of an illness that has already occurred, which I think will be a big jump in healthcare progress.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
VR opens the door for fraud and abuse of systems, so it will require continued growth in other industries protecting patients from these types of cyber crimes before it becomes mainstream.
Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Streamlining healthcare communication and integrating all types of systems with one another so access of information from multiple sources is all available when treating a patient. Having access to complete medical history and records would help identify issues and improve care across the board.