For epilepsy patients who receive primary care at The Center for Women and Children in Greenspoint, heading to their neurology appointment just got a lot easier. Instead of making the 20-mile trek to the Texas Medical Center, patients can “see” their neurologist without leaving their primary care clinic.
Texas Children’s Division of Neurology and The Center in Greenspoint recently launched Telehealth, an interactive telecommunications system that uses real-time video technology to create a communication link among the primary care physician (PCP), specialist and family during a patient visit. Implementing this new technology has enhanced access to patient care and facilitated the coordination of care for Greenspoint patients enrolled in Texas Children’s Health Plan.
“Even though our patients live in urban areas, access to care can still be challenging,” said Dr. Heidi Schwarzwald, a Texas Children’s pediatrician at The Center in Greenspoint. “The struggle getting to and navigating through the medical center could lead to missed appointments, poor medication adherence and increased emergency room visits, all of which telehealth aims to resolve.”
So, how does a telehealth visit work?
After a patient checks into the clinic, the patient is directed to a room just like any other visit except the neurologist is seen on a video screen. At the end of the visit, the PCP enters the room and performs the physical exam while the neurologist observes remotely from a telehealth room at main campus. Together, the PCP, family member and neurologist develop the care plan for the patient which is then printed out for the family. Medication adjustments and prescriptions are completed and sent to the in-house pharmacy at The Center. If lab work is needed, blood tests are drawn at the clinic and the results are both visible to the PCP and the neurologist via the shared electronic medical record. The neurologist bills for the office visit the same as any other office visit but a modifier is applied to distinguish the visit as telehealth. The PCP bills a facility fee but not an office visit.
Besides enhancing patient care access, Dr. Gary Clark, Texas Children’s chief of Neurology and Developmental Neuroscience, says Telehealth serves a much larger purpose than just visiting with a patient over the video system.
“Through Telehealth, we’re impacting patient care and improving outcomes by offering an educational and supportive environment for our patients,” Clark said. “By including an educational component in the telehealth visit, the neurologist and PCP are helping to co-educate patients on the importance of taking their seizure medication, thereby reducing unnecessary hospital admissions and emergency room visits.”
Since Texas Children’s Health Plan covers more than 390,000 lives spread throughout Harris and Jefferson counties, many of the patients do not live near the medical center, which is why The Center in Greenspoint was selected as the first launch site for the telehealth initiative.
Future plans are underway to expand the telehealth service to patient families at The Center for Children and Women Southwest, who are also members of Texas Children’s Health Plan.