Welcome to house calls in the new age of technology and medicine.

Island Hospital’s new telemedicine program allows doctors to hold virtual appointments with patients via webcam. It’s for patients who don’t need immediate, in-person care but need a consult with a health care provider.

“There are patients we want to connect with, but we don’t want to have to bring them into the clinic,” said hospital CFO Elise Cutter, who is supervising the project. “We want to make sure we can see them but still keep them safe.”

The “virtual visits” are available to patients on either a laptop, desktop or their phones, she said.

The technology has been available for a while, but until now, Medicare and many insurance companies have had strict regulations in place for virtual office visits, Cutter said. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to reduce social contact, those regulations have eased, she said.

Hospital staff are urging Medicare and private insurance companies to keep the possibility of these appointments open as the COVID-19 crisis passes, Cutter said.

Island Hospital is starting telemedicine appointments today. Not all doctors are taking 

part, but there are representatives from primary care, pediatrics, family practice, internal medicine and psychiatry and behavioral health, Cutter said.

The push at first is to reconnect with patients whose appointments were canceled as the COVID-19 outbreak started growing, Cutter said. 

In a few weeks, doctors should start making new appointments.

A Tele-ICU specialist was already in the strategic plan for this year, Hospital CEO Charles Hall said. 

Originally, that virtual approach to critical care would have come closer to the end of the year, but because of the pandemic crisis, it has moved up, he said.

Hospital staff is interviewing providers now and expect the service to be set up soon, he said.

With Tele-ICU, equipment with cameras are trained on the patient, with full monitoring of vitals so that specialists can check in virtually. Patients are under watch 24/7 with an ICU nurse and a camera on the patient, Hall said. 

A specialist on call would be available to assist providers with care.

“We’re blessed to have secured the funding,” Hall said.

As of Tuesday, the hospital has tested 349 patients and seen 18 positive cases (including one positive inpatient at the hospital now). No other inpatients are currently under investigation.

Island Hospital is taking steps to make sure all visitors, vendors and staff members are wearing masks while inside the the building.

Following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that asks all people to wear homemade cloth masks when out in public places where social distancing of at least 6 feet can be difficult.

Hospital staff immediately responded to make sure everyone in the hospital or clinics wears masks, Hall said.

Visitors and vendors can bring their own cloth masks from home, and the hospital will also have masks available, he said.

It will take a couple days to get the policy completely in place, Hall said.

He said he also encourages everyone to follow the CDC suggestion and wear a cloth mask in public places such as grocery stores when they may not be able to stay far enough away from others.

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