Albany medical practices turning to the internet and phone to treat patients during coronavirus crisis

Medical care providers are turning to telemedicine to provide services while limiting contact to help limit the transmission of the coronavirus.

ALBANY — Hospitals aren’t the only medical providers dealing with the changed landscape brought about by COVID-19.

Area residents still need care for things from seasonal allergies to treatment for chronic conditions to just routine checkups. And with the threat of the coronavirus, practices are looking at ways to keep patients and employees safe by handling many routine appointments online.

“We currently are doing 90 percent of our work by telephone or videoconferencing,” Dr. Charles Gebhardt, president of Medical Associates of Albany, said.

Gebhardt estimated that about half of the practice’s staff at any given time is assisting patients on the phone.

“The volume of calls is huge. It’s just an incredible number,” he said. “(We’re) trying to solve problems. There’s an incredible amount of information they need. A lot of people need reassurance and information about what makes sense, because you hear a lot of misinformation.”

There are certain services that can’t be done over the phone, such as blood work and blood pressure checks, but Medical Associates is trying to do as much as possible without having patients come into the facility.

Part of the mission is to assist the overwhelmed Phoebe Putney Health System, whose workers and facilities are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

“Our job is to serve these patients and keep them out of the emergency room and hospital,” Gebhardt said. “We’re trying to keep people out of the hospital.”

Part of the move to telemedicine is based on short supplies. Medical Associates is short on gowns and facemasks, but so far has had a sufficient supply of the N95 masks being used by health care providers who are exposed to patients.

“We could do better” on the supply of N95 masks, Gebhardt said.

“It limits what we can do. It’s getting better. People are sending us stuff from out of state.

“We’re trying to provide all the services as safely as possible.”

Gebhardt also had a stark warning for people who aren’t taking the disease seriously and following guidelines.

“People who are not paying attention, they are complete fools, in my opinion,” he said. “This is a deadly disease. We’re still on the increasing phase.”

While southwest Georgia may peak in a few weeks, other places around the country will have waves of coronavirus strike later, Gebhardt said, and work being done here can help protect those communities by limiting the transmission of the virus.

Phoebe also is providing telemedicine services for treating minor conditions and managing chronic conditions.

“These virtual visits will allow us to provide much-needed care to our patients in the safest possible environments — their homes,” said Dr. Bill Fricks, chief medical information officer for Phoebe Physicians.

Patients can call (229) 312-MYMD (6963) to schedule a telehealth visit. They will be given an appointment time and a link to connect to a videoconference with a Phoebe physician or APP.

“It’s a very easy process,” Dr. Derek Heard, Phoebe’s medical director of Primary Care, said. “Patients can see and speak to their physician directly through their smartphone or a family member’s smartphone if they don’t have a phone with internet access.”

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