The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic changed so much about the world — from grocery shopping to dining at restaurants.
Naturally, the medical field, too, saw drastic changes.
For many physicians like Thomas Lawhorne, MD, that included finding new ways to continue to care for patients. An orthopedic spine surgeon at Optim Orthopedics in Brunswick says the practice started brainstorming new and innovative methods to connect in the early days of the pandemic.
“COVID-19 really changed things. All of a sudden, we couldn’t have those face-to-face interactions for the time we were shut down for roughly a month,” he said. “But we still had demand for that patient interaction during this time.”
That led the physicians at Optim to start exploring Telehealth. The process allows the doctor and patient to connect via a video link. It is something Lawhorne always had an interest in doing, but found barriers prior to the pandemic.
“We knew we needed a new system. I had an interest in Telehealth five or 10 years ago and wanted to incorporate it into my practice,” he said.
“There has always been a demand there but there were a lot of hurdles.”
Those included a highly regulated insurance industry and technological restrictions. But during the pandemic those restrictions were greatly relaxed. And with the extra time allowed during the office’s closure, the practice was able to set up its own Telehealth system.
“Until recently to do Telehealth you had to have computers on wheels on both ends. The insurance industry was highly regulated and it just was easier to maintain the status quo,” he said.
“But, that’s changed and since we’ve had more time during the pandemic, we were able to set it up. The regulatory burdens for doing Telehealth were also lowered. So the hurdles were relaxed as COVID developed.”
Optim rolled out the program during the early days of the crisis, allowing patients to continue to see their doctors while the office was closed.
Patients could easily download an application on their computer, tablet, or smart phone, and login for a secure virtual visit. For Dr. Lawhorne and his colleagues, continuing to offer their high quality of care during these trying times was of the utmost importance.
“It was vital to continue patient care and maintain accessibility to physicians. Just because there was a pandemic didn’t mean people no longer had neck and back pain. Telehealth is pretty easy and the patients have loved it,” Lawhorne commented.
“We have remote access to MRIs and x-rays. It worked really well.”
As the practice moves back toward a sense of normalcy, Dr. Lawhorne wanted to continue to offer Telehealth as an option for his patients.
“The demand is still there. Some patients still want to minimize exposure to crowded waiting rooms,” he said.
“And it offers accessibility to people who can’t get off work. So it really is a second option for those people who need a quick look or a follow-up.”
While the option doesn’t replace the need for face-to-face appointment, it has become another tool in the toolbox for Optim. Dr. Lawhorne is proud to continue the virtual visits going forward. Those interested — new or existing patients — need only call his office at 912-644-5324.
“When they call, my office can tell them how to download the app for free and walk them through the technical aspect of that and the portal,” he said.
Once a patient is set up, they can start receiving remote care at their convenience. Dr. Lawhorne and the Optim team are incredibly excited to offer this modern application to residents of the Golden Isles.
“It’s really had a huge impact on us. We’re now more accessible and can offer more quality time with our patients,” Lawhorne explained.
“It will never replace the hands-on component but it has been a really great discovery for us.”