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Benefits of Virtual Visits Will Extend Beyond COVID-19

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early March, it created an opportunity to take advantage of a new means of communication between doctors and patients: virtual visits.

Using a phone, computer or tablet, now you can talk with your doctors and other Roswell Park team members via video conferencing, from the safety and privacy of your own home. Back in March, Roswell Park’s clinical staff, IT Department and implementation teams worked quickly to speed up the process of offering patients the option of virtual visits.

“There is great potential for virtual visits and virtual care beyond this pandemic,” says Raghu Ram, MD, Vice President of Value-Based Care Optimization and Community Clinical Collaboration. “During the early weeks of the crisis, virtual visits allowed patients to keep their appointments without having to leave the safety of their homes. While Roswell Park has done a great job of making it safe for patients to come for in-person care as needed on our campus, some patients still have concerns. We’re pleased to offer virtual visits to make our patients feel safe and comfortable during what can be a stressful time.”

Now that New York State appears to have stabilized and successfully flattened the COVID-19 curve, the number of patients having virtual visits is starting to decrease, down from between 150-200 per day in March and April to just over 500 for all of July.

Continuing Care While Reducing Risk

Cynthia Cercone, an ovarian cancer patient who's being treated by Emese Zsiros, MD, PhD, FACOG, says she has welcomed the opportunity to have virtual visits with her care team. A Williamsville resident, Cynthia had been seeing Dr. Zsiros at the Amherst satellite location, but that wasn’t an option once the pandemic began.

“Being able to do the virtual visit made it so much easier,” she says. “I was able to have my appointment with my preferred doctor, which meant a lot to me. I didn’t have to worry about driving or parking. It went really well and was very easy.”

She felt some nervousness and anxiety about going to a doctor’s office or hospital during the pandemic — concerns that were instantly relieved with a virtual visit.

“It was super easy,” Cynthia says. “It was like FaceTiming family. It was really nice. I felt like the center of attention. She intuitively made that adjustment to make sure that we were connecting. Just like when you FaceTime family, everybody really looks at each other intently.”

A virtual visit has the added benefit of being easier to schedule around a patient’s time. In Cynthia's case, that includes her medication regimen. Her whole day is arranged around taking her medicine twice a day. She has to eat 30 minutes before taking it, and being able to schedule an at-home virtual visit for an hour before or after her medication makes things simpler.

Virtual visits are something Cynthia says she would highly recommend to a friend who was unsure or uncomfortable about going into a hospital or doctor’s office during the pandemic. “What do you have to lose? Especially now, with COVID-19.”

Who Can Have a Virtual Visit?

Not all patient care can be done virtually, of course, but for many types of appointments, it’s a high-tech option that recalls the days when doctors visited people at home – but with modern social-distancing rules in place. If you need to have blood drawn, you'll have the option of going to a local lab and having the results sent to Roswell Park to be analyzed and discussed during a virtual visit, without having to come downtown. If you'd prefer to visit your care team in person, you're still welcome to do so.

Doctors and specialists will decide on a patient-by-patient and case-by-case basis when it’s appropriate or acceptable to have a virtual visit. High on the list of considerations are the risk of contracting COVID-19 and the need for a physical exam.

More Information

Are you interested in having a virtual visit? Find out how your upcoming appointment can be done virtually.

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How It Works

Prior to a virtual appointment at Roswell Park, you'll receive an email and/or text message containing a link to a WebEx virtual meeting room. At that time, typically a few minutes before the appointment is set to start, you'll check in for the appointment and can send the link to a caregiver or family member so they can join the visit.

The virtual visit technology team is working to make this easier and to provide more time for the process. A pilot program that's set to roll out in early August will allow you to check in up to 30 minutes before your appointment is scheduled to start. That will give you more time to prepare and share the WebEx link with anyone you’d like to be involved in the visit. Most visits last about 20 minutes, but they can take as long as necessary.

To protect your privacy and confidentiality, and to keep all records and conversations secure, if you participate in a virtual visit, you'll receive an invitation with a WebEx link that is unique to you alone.

Now that virtual visits are well established, the virtual visit option can benefit many patients for many reasons, even apart from the pandemic. They will help Roswell Park expand its presence statewide, allowing patients to have their initial appointment and routine checkups remotely without having to travel to Buffalo.

Virtual visits are the future of medicine — and Roswell Park is ready.