In the COVID-19 partner Q&A series, we will share knowledge and expertise from HRS partners across the country on how they are leveraging telehealth in response to COVID-19. Below, Liberty VP of Homecare, Hospice & Palliative Care Services, Donna Turlington, shares her insights into how telehealth has strengthened patient care across the care continuum and proven its place as a standard of care delivery.

1. How have you been coordinating with local hospitals to reduce the strain on resources or free-up beds?

We’ve been working one-on-one with local hospitals and other providers to coordinate patient care and keep Discharge Planners and Case Managers updated on our capabilities during the outbreak. For local providers, such as Duke, UNC and WakeMed, we’re providing twice weekly updates on our ability to accept COVID-19 positive and potentially positive patients and monitor them from home.

2. How has your staff’s perception of telehealth changed since the outbreak began?

From both a clinical and administrative perspective, the view of telehealth has become even more positive. Telehealth has been attracting the attention of healthcare providers who in the past have not been interested in telehealth. Clinicians who have previously pushed back on the use of virtual visits are now realizing the power behind them. They’re realizing that the limitation they thought existed are few and far between and for patients, particularly during this troubling time, virtual visits offer a level of comfort that we wouldn’t be able to provide otherwise.

Our clinicians are excited to utilize virtual visits during this pandemic. It allows them to protect the patients and themselves from the possibility of exposure.

3. What aspects of the telehealth platform have been most valuable during the

The COVID-19 symptom surveys have been incredibly valuable, in addition to the COVID-19 Care Plan created by HRS. We have been able to quickly identify patients as possibly having COVID-19 due to their responses and reports of a fever, etc. When these patients are identified, we inform the staff immediately and follow-up with patients through a virtual visit to evaluate and triage.

4. What advice would you give other organizations looking to operationalize telehealth as a response to COVID-19?

This pandemic has shown all of us that there are sizable gaps in the healthcare industry but has also shown us there are effective and cost-efficient ways to reduce these gaps – one of those being telehealth.

My advice would be to get on a telehealth system as soon as possible and to ensure your telehealth provider will be a partner throughout the process. Each organization will have distinct needs for their patients and their program as a whole. I can't stress enough how important it is that your partner understands this and works with you to set and accomplish your program goals.

For organizations now launching a telehealth program, be sure to focus on clinical buy-in; educating your clinicians on the benefits to their patients but also the benefits to themselves and the clinical team. Telehealth must become a vital part of every clinician’s daily tasks just as using a stethoscope, BP monitor, gloves, etc. is the standard. The only way to make telehealth the standard in your organization and across the healthcare industry is through clinician buy-in. When the clinician accepts the benefits to telehealth, patients are more apt to be receptive. I tell my staff that virtual visits in healthcare are here to stay.