Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth was a platform that just couldn’t quite make it to prime time. However, once the pandemic shutdowns went into effect, telehealth and virtual visits moved front and center for the provision of routine and nonurgent healthcare. At least one health system has used these circumstances to ensure that telehealth remains a main component of care moving forward.
In the early days of the pandemic, Augusta University Health System, based in Augusta, GA, already had a telehealth platform developed that they had planned to launch in April 2020. When the pandemic exploded and non-emergent in-person care disappeared, the health system was able to quickly convert its AU Express Health Care platform to a 24/7 on-demand COVID-19 screening service. Working closely with the Georgia Department of Public Health and the CDC, a screening questionnaire was developed. If the questionnaire results indicate a possible infection, the user is directed to the nearest testing location.
According to Lauren Williams, director of population health at AU Health, bringing the screening platform to launch status required an all-hands-on-deck approach. The IT team was of particular importance, as they had to work through an approach to assist users who weren’t familiar with mHealth devices and telehealth platforms. They soon added a dedicated phone line to assist people through the screening process. In addition, they had to plan for and provide IT support, mobile scheduling, 24/7 staffing, all the while ensuring as simple a process as possible.
While the platform is still used for COVID-19 testing, AU Health is looking to future utilization options. The current plan is to use the platform as a direct-to-consumer telehealth platform – which was its original intent – for urgent care screening and ambulatory care. It is expected that 8,000+ visits can be handled for the system's 1,200 providers located in 35 different clinics. Eventually, other services will be added, such as health and wellness, chronic disease management, pre-op and post-op care and specialty consults.
Has your organization seen an uptick in telehealth/virtual visit use? If so, are you planning to expand these services?