Arlington Free Clinic hadn’t ventured into telehealth prior to COVID-19. Given the barriers – language, literacy, and technology – that our patients face, it simply hadn’t made sense to attempt virtual visits before. But as news of the devastation spread, more and more businesses closed, and stay at home orders went into effect, things shifted.
A staff telehealth task force snapped into action researching the software options. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Adams Compassionate Healthcare Network, CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, Kaushik Venkatesh, EMT, and Dr. Ken Zweig of Northern Virginia Family Practice – who were already successfully using telemedicine and offered to help AFC efficiently identify and implement an appropriate system. Things took off, and we began delivering our first appointments via the Doxy.me platform within a week.
Our IT team has been helping staff and volunteers adapt to remote care, granting those who need it access to our electronic health record (EHR); anticipating new needs such as webcams; and in one case, even rebuilding a volunteer’s computer. The challenges our team has faced have given us a deep appreciation for the tech-related barriers our patients are up against, including lacking a smartphone or having a cellular plan without data. We are committed to meeting patients where they are by also offering traditional phone visits with on-call volunteer interpreters on three-way conference calls.
Telehealth has exceeded our expectations! Our Director of Clinical Services sat in on our nurse practitioner’s initial visits so she could flag potential issues or concerns. What she took away from the experience was how much more of an intimate encounter the process can create. The patient is in the comfort of his/her own home and the provider is focused completely on the patient – literally face-to-face. While we can’t take vitals or touch the patient, we can see their medicines (which they often forget to bring to their onsite visits). Our nurse practitioner has begun asking patients to check their own vitals at the start of each visit using the thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, and blood sugar monitors that have been generously purchased for us by local individuals and county and corporate partners.
Telehealth cuts out all the noise and activity of the Clinic environment as well as time spent sitting in the waiting room. It is a wonderful new tool for AFC that we will likely continue to utilize in many ways even beyond this crisis!