TeleHealth: Making it Easier to See a Sleep Doctor
It’s no secret that there is a physician shortage nationwide that’s expected to grow over the next 15 years. That’s especially the case in rural areas where patients typically have to drive a number of miles to see a specialty physician.
As part of efforts to expand access to care, OSF HealthCare TeleHealth, a part of OSF Innovation, has launched a number of programs that allow patients in smaller communities to get the care they need without having to travel to a bigger city. This includes consultations with neurologists, cardiologists and pediatricians. The newest program offered gives patients in the small city of Ottawa the opportunity to visit with a sleep physician without a long wait and excluding the need to travel to Peoria.
68-year old Carleen Jones from Ottawa was not getting a good night’s rest. Jones had a bit of a continuing snoring problem that she had yet to deal with.
“I have a husband who said, ‘Now you do something about this, or I won’t sleep in the same bed as you do.’ So that did it,” said Jones.
The ultimatum, made in jest, encouraged Jones to take a sleep study which ultimately found she had sleep apnea, a common but potentially serious disorder that causes people to stop breathing multiple times while sleeping. The next step was to see a physician who specializes in sleep.
The problem was that the closest pulmonologist was more than 70 miles away in Peoria. Jones had the choice of either waiting until the specialist came to Ottawa, she could travel to Peoria or she could see a sleep doctor using videoconferencing technology in a matter of weeks. Jones cares daily for her mother, so a trip outside of Ottawa was not an option. She chose to have a consultation with her doctor using telehealth services.
“I actually feel I got more face time because she was focused on everything right here, right now,” said Jones. “And getting the vital signs through the teleprompter was very interesting.”
The telehealth appointment is much like a regular one except the patient meets with her physician over a large video monitor.
“The patient is able to interact with them just like you see with Skype or FaceTime or anything like that,” said Lisa Stanek (STAN-eck), a Registered Nurse at OSF Medical Group Ottawa. “They can ask questions. The doctor can ask the patient questions. It’s just like a regular office visit. It’s very neat.”
Stanek says she is also able to check a patient’s vitals using a Bluetooth-enabled stethoscope that lets the doctor hear heartbeats and lung sounds from hundreds of miles away.
Dr. Kaninika Verma is the Medical Director of OSF Sleep. She had the idea to offer the telehealth option in Ottawa to ease the amount of travel physicians have to take to see patients, but most importantly, to keep up with the demand for the service.
“One of my biggest goals for OSF Sleep is to deliver the highest quality of care regardless of where the patients are located, so it gives patients the greatest access and for physicians—greater outreach for them to seek more patients.”
It’s also a major goal for OSF TeleHealth to innovate care delivery and to empower patients to become more engaged in their own health and wellness.
“Health care is changing and we need to be readily available for our patients…kind of like our OSF OnCall…we have another avenue for patients to be seen. It’s patient on- demand vs. them always coming to us,” said Sarah Metzger, a program manager for OSF TeleHealth.
It’s through the use of technology like videoconferencing that the department hopes to help improve outcomes, reduce costs and improve access to care—allowing for timely diagnosis and treatment.