‘It happened very quickly’: The story behind video visits
Speed was of the essence. In just three days, Christina Kopp, ARNP, the lead advanced nurse practitioner for UI Urgent Care, and Robert Linnell, MPAS, PA-C, who oversees operations for UI QuickCare, swung into action to launch a telemedicine triage service.
With a team that included the Medical Director of UI Urgent Care Nathan Shaw, MD, and the Director of Offsite Primary Care Katherine Imborek, MD, they faced a monumental challenge—transform one of the urgent care clinics to a full telemedicine center.
The new program, which was tested on the morning of Tuesday, March 10, and went fully live the next afternoon, was needed to handle an influx of potential COVID-19 patients calling University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.
“Monday and Tuesday were almost business as usual in the urgent care clinic. By Wednesday, though, we had telemedicine up and running,” says Kopp. “The four of us were in the first days of this situation, and we piloted the program, staffed it, and got a lot of volunteers from family medicine and internal medicine to help out. It happened very quickly.”
To help minimize the spread of COVID-19, the team knew they had to move fast.
“With telemedicine, we were able to effectively keep patients with respiratory symptoms out of our walk-in clinics and have them speak to a provider by phone or video, who could determine if they needed further testing or follow-up care,” says Linnell.
Expanding access to care
Just a few days later, a new respiratory clinic was also up and running, complete with all of the PPE (personal protective equipment) needed, such as face shields, surgical masks, gloves, and gowns.
“This was designed so that if a patient presented at one of our locations or called into the telemedicine center and didn’t pass a screening due to respiratory symptoms, they could be sent to our dedicated respiratory clinic for further evaluation,” says Kopp.
Within a month, the telemedicine team logged more than 8,000 telephone and video appointments. As of this week, they’ve completed more than 10,500 telemedicine visits. In addition to APPs and physicians within urgent care, more than 50 providers from multiple departments have also handled the calls.
And the community response to the telemedicine service has been highly positive.
“COVID-19 has been a challenge because we do not know everything about it and how it affects patients,” says Linnell. “We were able to get this telemedicine option available quickly to give the community a chance to call in and discuss their symptoms or concerns with a provider and see if we can help them in these uncertain times.”
Telemedicine’s time to shine
The day before go live, the team did a small pilot. From there, Linnell says, the team ramped up rapidly, establishing a formal telemedicine service.
“We were able to train ourselves on telemedicine procedures and then Christina and myself were able to start training the providers,” explains Linnell. “Multiple other departments at UI Health Care had advanced nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and physicians who were able to help out, and we were able to get them all trained quickly. We now have a large pool of providers to help us with this program.”
Imborek agrees. Planning and launching the video visits and the respiratory clinic in such a short amount of time, she says, took the efforts and coordination of many staff members.
“It’s a great example of everyone working together to provide timely COVID-19 care while also maintaining the safety of our patients, visitors, and staff,” Imborek notes.
Kopp, who handles orientation of new employees as well as ongoing training and scheduling for two UI Urgent Care locations, straddles the line between administrative work and patient care, splitting her time equally between the two. Challenging the telemedicine kickoff for her personally is the fact that she is eight months pregnant and about to have her third child.
“It’s hard being pregnant during a pandemic,” she admits. “But I’m glad that I’ve been able to be a part of this. It’s been so special to see this come together because we’ve pulled together as a team. And that, really, is a reflection of who we all are.”