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Wisconsin telemedicine improves care for some patients but not all

Published: Aug. 15, 2021 at 1:15 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 15, 2021 at 6:06 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Over the past year and a half, you’ve likely heard the words “telemedicine” or “telehealth”. They both mean seeing your healthcare provider not at their office, instead using your computer or smartphone for your appointment.

“Telemedicine has been really great for what I do because a lot of what I do at that initial visit is educating patients on the disease process or the problem that they were referred to me for,” Dr. David Schneider, an endocrine surgeon at UW Health, said.

At the start of the pandemic, UW Health physicians were virtually treating hundreds if not thousands of patients per day, according to Dr. Schneider. An efficient system that he said generally let them see more patients than in-person. A good use of time is why some patients are still accessing their healthcare virtually.

“I live on Washington Island in Wisconsin and although I don’t mind getting off the island now and then it’s much easier to do something over my cell phone for 45 minutes or whatever than it is to come and go anywhere much less the island,” one of the first virtual cardiac rehabilitation program patients at Bellin Health, Jacquelyn Rader, highlighted.

After having heart surgery about five months ago, Rader thought doing virtual cardiac therapy would be a much easier option than hopping on a ferry and driving 2.5 hours to Green Bay to visit Bellin Health.

Instead, one of her clinical exercise physiologists, Joy Haese, walks her through exercises and checks in about how she’s feeling - all online. Rader will occasionally visit Green Bay for various reasons and will drop by for in-person therapy at Bellin Health on those days.

However, not all health providers can take advantage of technology, especially in rural areas. Dr. Amy Slagle, a family physician at the Menominee Tribal Clinic in Keshena, shared they don’t typically use telehealth because their service in Northeast Wisconsin is inconsistent. Plus, many of their patients don’t have smartphones.

UW Health is considering setting up community kiosks in rural areas with a private station for patients to conduct their virtual visit. Another option they are exploring is having loaner virtual equipment installed in their current clinics so patients could reach doctors who are farther away in larger cities.

“It’s not for everything,” the executive director of primary care, quality and innovation at Prevea Health, Amber Allen, emphasized. “However, from my perspective there is a role that telemedicine can play in almost every service line. Our highest utilizers are behavioral care and primary care. Those types of utilizers especially in the primary care realm of medication checks where it is sometimes asking ‘how are you feeling’ and more conversational. You may not need to listen to hearts and lungs and all that sort of things.”

Doctors and medical administrators seem to agree that telemedicine is here to stay but won’t always be the right treatment.

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