By Tom Reardon, June 2020 issue.
As a society, the way we interact with medical professionals is at a turning point. Before the pandemic, if we felt badly emotionally or physically, some of us would call our healthcare provider and make an appointment to go into the office and see what was happening in our minds and bodies. For others, this might be a trip to an urgent care or clinic where a cash payment was an option, as the luxury of decent insurance may not be available.
Either way, seeing a healthcare professional face to face for non-emergency services has been part of our culture since before we were all born.
Today, though, we are being told to not go to the doctor unless it is an emergency. Depending on which news sources you read, watch, or listen to, you may have heard that healthcare, outside of treatment for COVID-19, is not readily available. Nothing could be further from the truth, though, and there is good news in this arena.
“There is access to care right now. Tele-medicine is a platform for the future. Any practice that doesn’t do this now is going to be behind the eight ball. I think we are coming into the new paradigm of what medicine looks like after this,” says Dr. Kelly Roy of Arizona Gynecology Consultants (AGC) who have five Phoenix area offices and offer a wide variety of virtual gynecological services.
In addition to Arizona Gynecology Consultants, Bayless Integrated Healthcare (BIH), which has multiple Valley offices, is also stepping up their tele-health game. Both are local healthcare providers that are known for working with the LGBTQ+ community and are offering tele-health services to anyone in need of care.
For those unfamiliar with tele-health (or tele-medicine as it is sometimes referred to), it is the practice of having a visit with a healthcare professional using technology. This could be a phone call, a video chat (using Facetime, for example, or something akin to a Zoom meeting), or even using an internet chat service.
While Arizona Gynecology Consultants specialize in gynecological services for women (minus the obstetrics side), Bayless Integrated Healthcare offers a wide variety of health services, including family health, emotional and behavioral health, addiction services, and virtual health services which they have been offering since before the pandemic. Both providers offer a wide range of tele-health services, so patients who may be nervous about going into a healthcare office for non-emergency services can take advantage of tele-health offerings.
Women in need of services for breast pain or discharge, for example, or frequent urination, sinusitis, heavy or irregular menstrual bleeding, and depression, to name a few, can simply call Arizona Gynecology Consultants or visit their website to set up a consultation. If necessary, an in-person visit will be arranged as certain gynecological examinations require a more intimate approach, but many services can be provided via tele-health.
Dr. Kelly Roy is a founder and director of Arizona Gynecology Consultants which opened its doors in 2006 and is excited about the possibilities that tele-health brings, but also understands that many patients have concerns or doubts regarding this practice that is rapidly becoming part of the new “normal” in our society.
“When we first started this about five or six weeks ago, telemedicine was not at all part of our offering. Less than 1%. We really had no formal system for how to do this. We needed to contact our patients, though, so we launched into this,” says Dr. Roy over the phone.
At first, there were challenges with technology as Dr. Roy and her team were using multiple methods including facetime, WhatsApp, and good old-fashioned phone calls. Currently, they are using an application called NextPatient for video visits and, according to their website, there are other methods of making virtual contact. Dr. Roy believes this type of interaction between doctor and patient will require more innovation because it is not going away anytime soon.
“We go a long way to try and help patients. If they have difficulty, we walk them through the process before they even get on the visit with the physician, so they don’t feel pressured,” says Dr. Roy before continuing:
“As innovation continues in this space, figuring out how to have a consistent platform for patients is just as important as figuring out how to prescribe narcotics. It almost has to be a federal or state-backed way for us to have more consistent, more available, and the technology has to be something that anyone can get on to, especially Medicare patients.”
Dr. Nadia Ledesma of Bayless Integrated Healthcare also sees amazing possibilities for helping patients with tele-healthcare. Dr. Ledesma has been seeing a number of patients virtually for some time now and more recently has been working with trans patients in need of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) virtually.
“I do hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for the trans population. The trans population works a lot by word of mouth. I’ve been doing this for the past two years. In the last few months, I’ve gotten five or six new patients that I started on HRT through tele-health. Just because we’re going through this pandemic doesn’t mean I’m not going to start your HRT because we’re seeing each other through tele-health. We have to keep moving forward and embracing who you are as a person,” says Dr. Ledesma.
In fact, Bayless has been doing tele-health for some time now, so the transition has not been felt as much by Dr. Ledesma and her peers.
“With Bayless, we’ve been doing tele-health since before the pandemic began. We are grateful and thankful that we’ve already had these services and (are now) trying to vocalize that we have tele-health available. These resources are beneficial (to patients). I’ve spoken to many of my patients and just to hear somebody’s voice or just to see them on the other side of the screen, you can still develop that trust, that relationship with the patient. It makes a big difference to being able to provide tele-health services,” says Dr. Ledesma.
Patients who do not have adequate insurance or any insurance at all, for that matter, will not be turned away from either healthcare provider. Each offer cash payments and have some flexibility to offer services at sliding rates (BIH) or delayed payments (AGC).
“We have a cash price that is at our lowest rate that we can charge. We have ways to help out patients who self-declare that they are having difficulty paying such as delayed billing because we do not want anyone to not get care because they can’t afford it. I’ve done this forever in my practice. We’re an urban, downtown practice for the most part. We care for patients from all different economic backgrounds. That part wasn’t hard for us, and it shouldn’t be an obstacle for care for patients,” says Dr. Roy.
Both Dr. Ledesma, who has been with Bayless for four years now, and Dr. Roy recognize the challenges that we are all facing because of the pandemic. There is so much misinformation out there about what we are supposed to be doing to stay safe and how we can help each other through this.
“I think the biggest thing is to keep practicing social distancing, vigilant hand-washing, and keeping your area as well protected as possible. Also, common sense. Utilize your mask if you’re going out. We have to keep in mind that not everybody is healthy in our population. We have to protect the other people who are more vulnerable. I’m not sure that is the message that is getting out there, but that’s what we practice here at Bayless so that we don’t expose others,” says Dr. Ledesma.
Dr. Roy also included some media related advice, as well, for those who are doing their best to stay healthy and limit daily stress.
“Limit your exposure to the news. I say that tongue in cheek, but I think the stress of the news is hard for people. I’ve been a follower of the consolidated news lately,” says Dr. Roy.
Other advice offered by Dr. Roy was to stay up-to-date on your prescriptions and tele-health is a great way to do this and to practice some social distancing while being out exercising, even in the open air. Dr. Ledesma also talked extensively about not skipping a visit (virtual or otherwise) with your doctor if you have health concerns that are causing you stress and discomfort.
Contact Arizona Gynecology Consultants at 602-358-8588 or visit azgyn.com.
Contact Bayless Integrated Healthcare at https://www.baylesshealthcare.com/contact/.