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Billings Clinic sees increase in virtual visits in COVID-19 spread

Posted at 3:07 PM, Apr 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-16 17:07:23-04

Billings hospitals are taking on a new virtual platform now that the coronavirus pandemic has forced many to stay home.

In recent weeks, those with Billings Clinic have worked to transfer many doctor visits to virtual ones to still meet the needs of patients.

Those with the clinic said they are seeing as many as 400 virtual or telephone visits a day through the use of Skype.

And when it comes to patient confidentiality, Dr. Michael Temporal says there are precautions being taken to ensure that by using adequate video and audio quality technology.

“We’re making sure, from a patient safety-side, it's a tool that is safe and secure,” he said.

Temporal said if the situation is serious or dire, in-person visits will take place, but officials are encouraging patients to use the virtual visit platform to avoid postponing scheduled appointments.

He says people would be surprised how personal the virtual visits really are, because many times a visit with a doctor is a chance to talk out concerns.

“With video cameras, we can see things, and so it can sometimes be awkward, but you know we can look at parts of your skin or at your throat and that sort of a thing or a general visualization of what’s going on and make some assessments from just what we see,” he said.

Since the spread of COVID-19, Billings Clinic started to step up its tele-health platform planning for what they figured would come, such as restrictions on visits and concerns about infection.

“We’ve been building its capacity,” said Temporal. ”For the patients that we can’t do face to face, we do have a telephone.”

But he’s hoping more patients will become more comfortable with the technology and the idea of a virtual visit as Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's stay-at-home order continues.

“It’s much better to see the person and to do what we can visually and to interact more so than a telephone call,” he said.

And many of the typical items that happen during a doctor's check up, can happen with patients at home.

Temporal says many people already have a scale to determine weight, or a thermometer for taking one’s temperature. Many even have blood pressure cuffs at home.

“With video cameras, we can see a lot of things,” he said. “Getting a sense of your breathing or your ability to feel comfortable. So a patient in a lot of pain, we can see that sort of a thing or somebody who is uncomfortable or distressed often times we will see that more so than have a physical examination finding.”

He says the virtual visit platform is "ramping up" for the routine patient and there is already acute care set up for adults and kids.

“It keeps people at home. It decreases exposure to them, as well as the hospital personnel,” said Temporal.

Temporal also anticipates more visual visits even as the COVID-19 virus and its impact on communities subsides.