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Is telehealth the new normal?

Posted at 5:59 PM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-22 21:30:54-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Joe Trejo of Aransas Pass finds himself at his mother's bedside at CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital - Shoreline.

Her kidney issues are to blame.

“Bringing my mom to the ER,” Trejo told us. "It’s exhausting. My mom is just tired all the time.”

After experiencing the frustration of sitting in crowded waiting rooms with his mom, Trejo chooses to get treated virtually via telehealth. And with the surge of the omicron variant, more people in the Coastal Bend are using it now more than ever before.

“It’s pretty convenient,” he said.

Virtual appointments have become not only convenient for patients, but also helps hospitals cope with staffing shortages.

Trejo hasn’t just used telehealth here in the Coastal Bend. On a recent trip to California, he got sick, logged onto telehealth and within 20 minutes he had the medication he needed.

He isn’t alone.

At CHRISTUS Trinity Clinics, between March 2020 and December 2021, 17% of patients used telehealth, and out of all CHRISTUS patient visits, 6% of them were virtual.

At Driscoll Childrens Hospital, we found there were more than 45,000 telehealth visits since March 2020 in all specialties, and it's now integrated into emergency rooms too.

We asked Dr. Colin Banas, the chief medical officer for DrFirst - a health information technology company, why he believes many people don’t want to go to the emergency rooms these days.

“Recent omicron surge is certainly to blame,” he said. “[Telehealth] relieves some of the unnecessary burden on emergency departments.”

Telehealth isn’t just from a person’s home. It can also be used at a car crash, a medical emergency like a heart attack, or wherever crews need to respond. Often, the emergency room physician will be brought on the call to assess the situation.

Other benefits for patients include not having to travel to the doctor’s office or even taking time off from work. As for Trejo, he keeps a close eye on his mom. And when it comes to his health, he’s all for it.

“You need a doctor on site sometimes and what would be the difference if he was there or not?” he asks.

Telehealth doesn’t work for everybody. Check with your doctor. As for the cost. Insurance companies typically reimburse for the same amount as an in-patient visit. Will telehealth become a permanent part of everyday care? That’s now up to policy-makers to decide if it will be part of what some call the new normal.