Online medical appointments go mainstream during pandemic

Telehealth has grown in demand since the coronavirus pandemic began, placing more importance on the expansion of medical education and access for patients.

The federal Health Resources and Services Administration awarded $15 million in grants for telehealth training of students at colleges nationwide, including some universities in Florida.

At the University of South Florida, Dr. Dawn Schocken, a professor at the Morsani College of Medicine, is teaching medical students how to connect with and evaluate patients through a screen.

“It wasn’t a real presence in our clinic. But starting in March, it became really, really evident that we had to start ramping up our teaching,” said Schocken, the director for the center of experiential learning and simulation at USF Health. “The interesting thing is how do you help the students understand what they’re looking for. What are the markers of a telehealth visit that you look for? “

Doctors practice telehealth in Florida, but there’s still a way to go, according to May’s Florida Tax Watch report. The report names several challenges like the lack of widespread broadband internet access.

“This is a struggle for people in areas where they don’t have computers, access to computers and access to good telemedicine work,” said Schocken.

The report also said Florida needs to address regulatory barriers, have clear guidelines for practice and make sure medical school students show digital readiness.

“I think if our students learn how to do this at the beginning of their career and practice it throughout their four years, they’ll be very comfortable with this platform,” she said.

Dr. Schocken said it’s an evolving field and sure to stick around as an option for providers and patients.

“It will be the whole arm of primary care that we will be using into the future because many of the visits that people have in primary care are maybe not as essential, and they could be done through telehealth,” said Schocken.

Doctors have used telemedicine to monitor COVID-19 patients from their homes. Dr. Schocken thinks it’s important for patients who use telehealth visits to be flexible as there will be a lot of trial and error.

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The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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