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Riverwood introduces telehealth virtual visits

Dr. Tim Arnold leads implementation of Virtual Visits

Riverwood Healthcare Center is tapping virtual technology to offer patients the opportunity to meet with their health care providers remotely from home.

To enable a virtual visit with audio and video, those with an internet connection can do this from home. Devices that may be used include a smartphone, laptop, iPad, tablet, or a computer with a web camera and microphone.

For a virtual visit, the patient will receive an email with a link to activate the audio and video connection. The visit will start 5 minutes before the scheduled time with the provider by selecting the link and making the connection with the clinical assistant to complete the pre-visit review of needed information.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Riverwood had a team working on developing virtual visit or telehealth capabilities,” said Dr. Tim Arnold, family physician who has led information technology implementation, including electronic medical record use, at Riverwood for 15 years. “With the sudden need to restrict on-site, noncritical patient visits to prepare for and limit exposure to COVID-19 illness, we fast-tracked this project and are excited to be rolling it out April 6.”

In mid-March, Riverwood initiated phone visits between patients and providers to take the place of in-person clinic visits for routine care. Those patients who have a need for lab or other medical tests are advised to come to their clinic and will enter via a new entrance to preserve social distancing practices.

“We know that virtual visits will not work for all our patients due to lack of internet access or the inability to use the technology,” Arnold added. “However, for those who can do the virtual visits, it offers us a way to facilitate patient interactions in a way that preserves social distancing while protecting the health and safety of our patients and health care workers. A lot happens in between the words exchanged during a visit to your provider and the virtual visit allows this nonverbal communication to still take place. I can tell a lot about how a patient feels by looking at him or her, reading facial expressions and watching how he or she responds to questions.”

Virtual visits also provide a safe and effective means to figure out which patients do need to be seen in person in the clinic. Ongoing, it will offer greater convenience for those who find it difficult to get away from their job or find the time to travel to their clinic for an in-person exam.

“In the pilot virtual visits, I’ve done so far there’s been a universally positive reception from my patients,” Arnold said. “From a provider perspective, the virtual visit gives us a new way to care for our patients that’s much better than a phone visit. We would still like to be able to see patients in the clinic but until it is safe to do so, this is a great option for both providers and patients.”

The telehealth appointment is as private as if you were in the clinic and uses a 2-way audio and video connection. Riverwood uses secure software to establish the video and audio connection for each visit.

Many insurance companies provide coverage for telehealth or telemedicine visits. Contact your insurance plan to check on coverage for your health care policy. For those who don’t have insurance coverage for telehealth visits or who are uninsured, contact Riverwood’s financial counselor at (218) 927-8284 for assistance on programs that may be able to help.

In addition to primary care, virtual visits are available at Riverwood for specialty care, behavioral/mental health services, therapy services, and diabetes and nutrition education.

For patients who have no internet access or an internet connection that is not high speed and might not support a virtual visit, they can still arrange for a phone visit, or in person if deemed necessary, with their provider. To request a virtual or other clinic appointment at any Riverwood clinic in Aitkin, Garrison or McGregor call (218) 927-2157 or toll-free at (888) 270-1882.