No Hitches: Emory's First Telemedicine Visit

August 2016

A few weeks after undergoing laparoscopic paraesophageal hernia repair, the patient had her first post-op examination. Scott Davis, MD, the Emory general surgeon who performed the procedure, asked if she was experiencing soreness beyond what would be expected. The patient said she wasn't as she showed him the tiny scars on her abdomen from the incision sites.

"Those are healing nicely," he said. "Soon you'll barely be able to see them."

The patient agreed with a smile. Davis tilted his laptop screen slightly forward to reduce the glare from the overhead light, and the patient readjusted her iPad as she sat back down. Davis was in his office at Emory University Hospital, and the patient was at work miles away.

When Davis and the patient disconnected, he had completed the first telemedicine post-op examination to be done in the Emory Healthcare (EHC) system, launching what is sure to become a regular fixture in Emory's clinical routine.

Meagan Moyer, MPH, a member of EHC's Patient Access Optimization Team, is one of the primary leaders in the effort to develop telemedicine as an alternate means of patient access to Emory providers.

"This visit was the culmination of several months of planning and prep," she says. "The patient was very pleased. On top of a good outcome, she didn't have to spend over three hours on the road to get to the appointment, spend money on gas, or take the day off from work."

The technical arm of the telemedicine initiative was provided by Vidyo, Emory's contracted video-conferencing platform. The company specializes in HD-quality, multipoint video communications hosted on its own patented VidyoCloud environment, and encrypts its communications to the degree that they are HIPPA compliant. Activating the service merely requires installing an app, and the actual appointment process is simple: the patient clicks an emailed link at a pre-scheduled time, and "enters the exam room."

When Moyer's team started casting around for physicians interested in doing the first visit, Davis volunteered immediately. "It's all of a piece," he says. "Taking as much of the onus off the patient as possible is essential, and there's many ways we can do that, be it by reducing their recovery times with things like minimally invasive surgery, or making it so that don't have to jump through hoops every time they have to see us."

With the completion of this crucial first step, Moyer and Davis are intent on further institutionalizing tele-visits. Davis is actively identifying patients that might be interested in the option, and Moyer is letting it be known that any Emory surgeon or physician is welcome to become involved. Patient satisfaction surveys specific to the telemedicine experience have also been created, and will be referenced for possible improvements.

"We are piloting the program in other areas as well, including the TravelWell Center, the departments of neurology and dermatology, and the Emory Voice Center," says Moyer.

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