Published on April 14, 2020

Essentia Health use of virtual care during COVID-19 pandemic soars

In less than one month, well over 34,000 visits have been completed

Essentia Health is leading the country in their robust use of virtual visits to ensure the high quality of care that our patients have come to expect during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had been working toward this goal prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” explains Dr. Rich Vetter, chief medical officer. “The pandemic certainly accelerated our plans and moved the launch date forward.”

Essentia’s first virtual visit was conducted on March 18, 2020 and since then Essentia Health has conducted more than 34,000 virtual visits and the number grows every day. Nearly 3,000 visits are occurring each day and at any given moment, more than 100 visits are happening simultaneously.

Patients can now schedule a virtual visit, which is a video appointment that occurs directly between a provider and a patient. The patient can do the visit from the comfort of their home and utilize their own technology such as a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Patients are appreciative of being able to continue necessary doctor appointments without having to leave their homes. Essentia Health is providing excellent and safe patient care in a different way.

Essentia Health is using virtual visits in areas you might not expect. Examples include physical, occupational and speech language therapy visits. Both new and existing patients are being seen via virtual visits for their appointments. The results have been impressive.

For Bruce Neuhalsen of Moorhead, the virtual visit has helped with a better therapy experience and once the pandemic subsides, it’s something he hopes he can continue when possible. A stroke at age 47 left him unable to walk, sit up, or balance. He says, “I came to occupational therapy to help me figure out how to get the best out of where I am now. I’ll never be my old self again, so I need to adapt to my new normal.”

Neuhalsen also experiences what is described as “white coat syndrome” where his blood pressure rises to a level above the normal range in a clinical setting. He does not show elevated blood pressure in other settings. “The virtual visit where I’m at home and not entering the clinic leaves me more relaxed and offers a more conducive therapy experience. I’m freer with my thoughts and conversation,” Neuhalsen says.

Rehabilitation services director, Michelle Enockson says sentiments like Neuhalsen’s are common now that the department has transitioned to more virtual visits. “We have a lot of patients who were concerned that their therapy might not be able to continue during the pandemic and were very concerned. We’ve been able to alleviate those fears,” Enockson explains.

Here in Fargo, we are seeing on average, 140 patients each day virtually and that number is growing.

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