The ambulatory practice of otolaryngology at Washington University School of Medicine had an abrupt change on March 23, when the majority of our upcoming scheduled patients were cancelled. Safety of the patients, staff and community was paramount given the advancing threat of COVID-19. Everyone involved in clinical care was instrumental in making this happen. We moved from seeing around 1,560 patients a week across seven clinical locations to seeing 265 patients with urgent issues at four locations.
In order to continue to provide care to our patients, the department adapted quickly. Telehealth visits were introduced for established patients on March 24 and for new patients April 9. In normal times, this may take months to establish a new workflow; however, with collaboration between physicians, nursing staff, Patient Service Representative (PSR) staff, Pre-arrival team and the Telecom team, this was managed in days.
With close collaboration between physicians and nursing staff, patients are being triaged to in-person office visits, Virtual Visits (telehealth) or a Recall list in Epic. The MyChart eCheck-in process is utilized for new and established patients. Zoom, a web-based videoconference system, is being used for video telehealth virtual visits. Our excellent team has become experts in using this technology, including being able to assist our patients in navigating the process. The coding group is following these new patient encounter types closely, modifying the codes as needed and tracking collections.
As of this writing, we have done more than 175 telehealth visits per week and expect that number to grow in the coming weeks. As we look forward to seeing patients more regularly in the office over the upcoming weeks/months, telehealth virtual visits will continue to figure in the COVID-era of patient care. The success of our teams in implementing this new approach to patient care during this crisis is paving the way to future growth in patient care.