Virtual doctor's visits may be here to stay, even after the pandemic

In the era of COVID-19, virtual doctor visits are quickly becoming the new normal.

Experts with HealthPartners believe telemedicine is going to become a lot more prevalent, long after this pandemic subsides.

Telemedicine is not a new concept. However, with COVID 19, federal restrictions loosened up significantly, allowing a lot more doctor’s visits to be done online.

"I like the fact that I’m at my house," said Kathy Brown, who met with her doctor for a check-up after surgery. "Particularly because, in addition to the stay at home order, I have orders that don’t allow me to drive.

Dr. Annie Ideker, a family medicine physician, at HealthPartners Arden Hills Clinic, says when given the charge to increase telemedicine back on March 19, her team quickly landed on Google Duo as their chosen free, easy, and secure platform.

She helped train more than 2,000 clinicians within 96 hours. As of Wednesday, HealthPartners has conducted more than 60,000 video visits with patients system-wide.

"In a large organization, like HealthPartners, this type thing doesn’t happen quickly," Dr. Ideker said. "Unless you have a burning platform to do it. And that’s what I think the COVID pandemic has really given us is a sense of urgency to figure out how to deliver this care. In a way, that's new and innovative and safe and reliable."

Everything from dermatologists conducting 80 of their visits through video to orthopedics, telemedicine is keeping clinic waiting rooms empty.

"It turns out you can do a fair amount of physical exam for a shoulder joint for example," the doctor added, "just by having the patient sit in front of a video screen and move their arm around."

For Kathy Brown, the new technology took some getting used to. But at 76 years old, and thus more vulnerable to COVID-19 complications, she applauds the fact that virtual checkups are here to stay.

"COVID-19 or not, this is truly working for me," she said. 

Of course, not every doctor visit can be done through a video conference but a lot can be -- at least to start. So far this week, nearly half of all HealthPartners visits, 42 percent, are being conducted through video.