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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the virus that causes COVID-19. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S. (NIAID-RML via AP)

For more news about the COVID-19 coronavirus, access the News Tribune Health section.

 

It's not a good time for an elderly person to be away from home, let alone in the hospital.

With the COVID-19 pandemic looming over the nation, local and state leaders have issued stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of the disease, which can cause serious complications in the elderly and in those with underlying health conditions.

For some services, health care providers have found telehealth can help some of the most vulnerable patients who can remain in the comfort of their own homes.

A couple of weeks ago, Deloris Plaster, 78, had to have procedures done for her health.

"I certainly didn't want to get out," Plaster said. "I didn't want to go to the hospital, but I had to."

Health conditions resulted in Plaster developing an infection, which dehydrated her and landed her in a hospital, she said.

And after a brief stay, the hospital released her.

However, Plaster seemed to be reacting to medications at home.

Her legs were swelling, and she wanted to share her concerns with Brandy Glascock, her doctor at Jefferson City Medical Group.

And Plaster didn't want to take a chance by getting out of her home.

"I certainly didn't need that (virus) on top of what I already had," she said.

Fortunately, JCMG launched telemedicine/video visits in several of its medical specialties (including Family Medicine) over the past few weeks.

"Those capabilities will be expanded to other specialties in the coming days," said Jamie Patterson, JCMG vice president of marketing and business relations.

She said patients wishing to participate in video visits with their JCMG physicians should contact their physicians' offices for more information about the availability.

Plaster and her husband, Jim, 80, have a daughter who helped them set up a video visit with Glascock over a smartphone.

They conducted their first visit Wednesday.

"I showed (Glascock) my legs, so she could see how bad they were," Plaster said. "She adjusted my medicine accordingly, and it worked well."

It was a perfect opportunity for a telehealth visit, Glascock said.

Once patients get home from the hospital, they are required to schedule follow-up visits with their doctors.

"(Plaster) needed some follow-up work. She needed some blood work," Glascock said. "We were able to get the follow-up visit and lay eyes on her without her having to come in."

The Plasters already had home health care visits in place. So when the home health nurse came to check on them, the nurse took a sample of Plaster's blood for evaluation.

JCMG offering telemedicine has been a blessing, said Glascock, the provider's chair of Family Medicine.

"We're able to take care of patients. We're able to keep staff here. We're getting our staff more hours," she said. "It's been pretty flawless on our end. We have had a few hiccups with the phone devices on their end."

If any of their patients have difficulty getting set up, JCMG staff walk them through it, she continued.

"It's been really helpful during this coronavirus pandemic," Glascock said. "I think we'll continue this through the long haul. We'll continue it even past the pandemic."

At St. Mary's Hospital, the necessity for patients to see their doctors while not exposing either to the COVID-19 virus is a catalyst for the hospital to expand its telehealth offerings, said Jessica Royston, SSM Health regional manager of marketing and communications.

While the health care provider responds to the pandemic, it understands that patients have other continuing health care needs, she said in an email to the News Tribune.

"In order to meet patients' health care needs during this challenging time, SSM Health Medical Group has expanded its capabilities to provide virtual care," she said.

Using online resources, patients can meet with their providers remotely from their homes.

"This includes care for many common illnesses and injuries, preventive care, mental health conditions and a range of other medical needs," Royston said. "We ask that patients contact their providers' clinic office to determine if telehealth is an option for them."

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