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Telemedicine use rises at Emory during COVID-19 outbreak

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The use of telemedicine has soared at Emory Healthcare during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to Gregory Esper, MD, MBA, associate chief medical officer at Emory Healthcare and leader of Emory’s systemwide telehealth initiatives. 

The increase has allowed patients to continue to receive quality health care while safely quarantining in their homes. It has also helped health care providers conserve the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), which has been in short supply during the pandemic.

“We want patients to be able to stay safe in their homes while maintaining access to medical care,” Esper says.

Emory has been an early adopter and leader in the telemedicine field, beginning with the eICU program established in 2014 under the leadership of Timothy Buchman, PhD, MD, and Cheryl Hiddleson, MSN, RN, and a tele-nephrology program that began in 2017 under the medical direction of Janice Lea, MD.

Because of COVID-19, telemedicine efforts have increased dramatically. Emory expanded its use of outpatient telemedicine initiatives to combat COVID-19 three weeks ago as government and health officials urged residents to stay at home to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus. During that period, Emory has conducted nearly 9,000 telemedicine visits. In the first week, there were 700 visits. That rose to 3,500 visits in the second week and 4,500 visits in the week after that.

Esper said recent regulatory changes at the federal and state levels in response to COVID-19 have removed barriers that had prevented clinicians from doing things like seeing and treating patients in their homes by using audio/video technology such as Zoom or FaceTime and prescribing medications remotely.

Telemedicine is especially useful in treating the elderly and those in rural areas of the state who have long distances to drive for an appointment. In some instances, Emory is using telemedicine to see its health care workers and patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Those interested in making a telemedicine appointment can call Emory HealthConnection at 404-778-7777. For more information about telemedicine appointments visit the Emory Connected Care page at Emory Healthcare.

Esper’s administrative team includes Sarah Kier, vice president of patient access for Emory’s Physician Group Practices, Robert Sweeney, administrator for telemedicine at Emory Healthcare, and Emma Winchell, project manager for telemedicine at Emory Healthcare. This team comprises the central hub of the telemedicine initiative; while each clinical section and their designated telemedicine facilitator serves as a spoke. This hub and spoke model has allowed Emory Healthcare to deploy telemedicine rapidly across many medical and surgical specialties. 

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