Editor’s note: Interviews for articles in this issue of Pinal Ways were conducted in early or mid-May, and reflect the state of the industry at that time.

CASA GRANDE — The new telehealth program at Sun Life Family Health Center is working well so far, but adjustments are needed from patients and providers alike.

“I see additional flexibility,” physician assistant Logan Nichols said during a May 9 interview at the Arizola Road location in Casa Grande. Everyone has different circumstances, and that’s flexibility to patients’ schedules. Some patients, I don’t want them to come in for unnecessary exposure. They’re immunocompromised or immunosuppressed. It’s allowed me to stay in contact, not just verbally or over the phone, but to have some visual contact with some of my more regular patients.”

Nichols has found many patients prefer the video visits because they don’t have to sit in a waiting lobby, and then wait again in a doctor’s exam room.

“Also I’ve been able to (accommodate) patients with really busy work schedules that aren’t able to come in. We can schedule a simple telehealth visit and their immediate needs and concerns are met within a 15-minute appointment as opposed to coming in and getting roomed. That takes a little more process,” he said.

“From what I’ve seen so far, people have been very appreciative of the convenience of it. We can’t cover everything. We can’t discuss everything through telehealth, but it seems to be working very well for more immediate concerns and things that don’t require an in-office visit. I’ve seen, and heard, appreciation for the flexibility for us being able to do these.”

Some patients are shaken up, however, without having face-to-face interchanges, particularly elderly people. It’s an emotional adjustment they’re unprepared for, Nichols added.

“I would say yes,” Nichols said when asked if any regular patients have resisted the telehealth format. “For the patient, they’re used to how things have been done through tradition. There is a little bit of a learning curve with guiding patients through if they’re having trouble connecting, using their phone or their laptop. That’s been a bit of an adjustment. For myself, you do the best that you can to take care of people. I’m used to examining them, so it’s a little odd talking to someone and not being able to listen to their heart and lungs to make sure that those are OK.”

Two of the most challenging aspects of telehealth medicine, from the provider’s side, are engaging with children and receiving accurate and up-to-date information from patients, Nichols has learned in his one-year-plus at Sun Life.

“I’ve had a few instances where I was scheduled with adolescents and their parent needs to be on the phone because the patient isn’t able to sufficiently answer when it comes to medication names or scheduling or the extent of the symptoms,” Nichols explained.

“As far as adults go, yeah, they need to be a bit more conscientious and aware of the medications they’re taking, how their blood sugars have been, if they’re checking their blood pressure, which I think we need that. We need patients to be helping steer the boat of their health.”

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