Visits with Doctors Becoming Virtual Events

 by Robert Kimmel – 

With “social distancing” having become the major decree for curbing the spread of the coronavirus, a doctor’s visit for other reasons is now often a transformed process. If it does take place, it may not be the traditional appointment we’ve known for centuries.

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Some doctors, it appears, are taking the distancing to the utmost level. “Thank you for calling. The office remains closed due to the COVID-19” is the recorded message on the phone when calling one dermatologist’s office in Tarrytown. It does offer a call back “as soon as possible” when you leave appropriate contact information.

Checking for another medical specialist, an Ear, Nose and Throat physician, you’ll find the website of the local ENT and Allergy Associates having this message: “As part of our ongoing efforts to help contain the spread of COVID-19, we are now offering virtual office visits with ENT doctors as an alternative to office visits. A virtual visit is similar to an office visit, only instead of traveling to see your doctor you can video conference with them from your home,” it further explained. Visitors to the site are asked to “Call your provider’s office to determine if a virtual visit will work for you.”

The notice goes on to describe virtual visits as “extremely simple and easy…and you can access them from your desktop, tablet and smart phone. Our providers can assess symptoms, make a diagnosis, recommend treatment, and send prescriptions electronically to your pharmacy.” With the virtual visit, it adds that it “will attempt to replicate your office visit; however, it may have limitations due to the communication method.”

In complying with the new directives, and policies, Dr. Barry Field, a physician with the Westchester Gastroenterology Associates at Phelps, said the group has become selective in regard to whom it wants to see in its office. “We are doing video or verbal visits, with phones and with the computer for some patients,” he explained. “We are trying to keep people with suspicious symptoms from coming into the office.”

Those activities began toward the end of March, Dr. Field said. “And they are proving very useful,” he said. The doctor stated that he anticipates doing as many as eight to 12 such virtual visits daily as the likely maximum, and that “it works pretty well with our specialty. We have not been seeing many patients in the office since the seriousness of the coronavirus evolved.”

With the group’s location in the medical office building at Phelps Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, Dr. Field noted that any prospective patient coming into the structure at the entry level is checked and screened and depending on their symptoms and temperature, they may be sent to a location to be checked for the coronavirus. They could then be assigned to an office in the building, he said.

“It is very challenging, Dr. Field stated, and related that it is difficult for all physicians everywhere to have uniform policies with patients at this time. “I feel very bad for patients who do have the symptoms,” he said. “We are all in this together.”

Urgent Care of Westchester on White Plains Road in Tarrytown is also offering what its Office Manager, Joni Cospa, described as “telemedicine, either video or phone call for those who feel concerned about possible exposure. Normally, when a patient calls, we notify them that we offer this service, and then we can set them up for an appointment with the staff doctor.”

The office does also offer testing for COVID-19, Cospa stated. “Now that the test is becoming more available, we are able to test more people. We are just being very careful about people who want to come in for regular visits and be seen by a doctor,” she said.

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