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COVID-19 Pushed Healthcare Into A New Era

For years, health care systems across the United States, including UPMC, have been pushing for telemedicine integration, which connects patients with medical specialists remotely through a secure internet connection.

While state legislation and regulations have been slow to catch up with its advantages, COVID-19 has pushed healthcare into a new era of telemedicine. To prevent the virus’s spread while keeping patients and providers safe, telemedicine has served as a critical tool and allowed doctor appointments to continue.

Since COVID-19, UPMC has seen a surge in telemedicine appointments. The number of telemedicine visits conducted by the entire UPMC hospital system jumped from 250 per day in early March to nearly 9,500 per day by mid-April, a staggering 3,700% increase. At UPMC Chautauqua, we saw a 5,000% increase in telemedicine appointments in just one month.

You may recall how the staff at New York Presbyterian Hospital praised the amazing “health care heroes of UPMC” for coming to their rescue. UPMC physicians and nurses electronically connected with their colleagues in New York to help save lives when the New York City hospital had a surge of patients on ventilators but not enough critical care specialists to attend to all of them. Almost two dozen UPMC critical care physicians and two dozen nurses volunteered to consult with hospital staffers via telemedicine who were forced to operate outside their normal duties.

Because hospitals, like New York Presbyterian Hospital, have been so overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, Governor Cuomo has allowed health care workers licensed in other states to practice temporarily in New York without a New York medical license. Otherwise, New York’s State Department of Health requires that out-of-state health professionals looking to practice in the state must apply with a $735 fee, which is significantly higher than most states, and then wait for an average of two to four months before receiving a New York medical license. Even with telemedicine, this is still the case.

We applaud Governor Cuomo and his administration for allowing the people of New York to have expanded access to out-of-state providers during COVID, but this same level of access should not stop once the waiver expires. We strongly believe that New Yorkers, especially those in the Chautauqua region, should be able to leverage telemedicine and have access to the quality care that our system provides not just in New York state but also in Pennsylvania.

For patients who live in rural communities or medically underserved areas, telemedicine can provide the following benefits:

¯ Access to high-quality health care

¯ Less travel and travel expenses

¯ Earlier detection and faster diagnosis

¯ Easier chronic condition management

¯ Fewer hospitalizations

Health care continues to change and evolve on an almost-daily basis. First and foremost, UPMC Chautauqua is committed to providing the southwestern New York region with the type of world-class care patients have come to expect from UPMC.

I’m proud to be a leader in a hospital with a very rich tradition of excellent local leadership and compassionate care that is also part of a nationally ranked academic medical center and strong hospital network. Increasing our ability to provide telemedicine services without financial and time constraints can help us to continue to provide the very best care to our patients right here in the Chautauqua County region.

Brian Durniok is president of UPMC Chautauqua.

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