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Healthwatch 16: Pandemic technology

COVID-19 has changed the way we do a lot of things in our daily lives. It has also, in some cases, changed the way doctors care for their patients.

COVID-19 has turned a lot of things upside down. At Geisinger Medical Center, health providers were suddenly faced with how to best keep in touch with their patients.

"We were able to pivot on the head of a dime into this new era of telemedicine. And for someone who is hands-on or surgery-based, it was all new to us!" said Dr. Kenneth Altman.

Dr. Altman is in otolaryngology. He's the surgery arm of ENT, dealing with sinus, tonsil, and ear infection issues. He says in the six months since coronavirus first became a household word, he's able to stay in touch with the department's patients maybe even better than before.

"There were two patients, for example, I heard a hoarse voice, something wasn't right. They were high risk from a smoking standpoint. We brought them in, did a CT scan the same day of seeing me, and we were able to diagnose cancer in record time in those patients."

Before, he explains, those patients would have waited longer to be seen in person, potentially changing the outcome of their illnesses.

And his department isn't the only one that has seen positive changes.

"Telemedicine has become a staple of the practice, especially in cardiology, and we hope that will continue beyond the pandemic," Dr. Bryan Martin said.

Dr. Martin is a cardiologist at GWV's Pearsall Heart hospital. He says even before COVID-19, his department was using telephone and video visits to manage their patients' care.

"Sometimes you call Mr. Smith and, 'I can't come in for a visit tomorrow.' Well, this is an opportunity. We can talk on the phone, and if I decide after our discussion and a look at your electronic health record that you should come in, we'll arrange for that face to face."

Dr. Martin also noted that, in his words, it's a two-way street. As providers, they are more confident, and the vast majority of their patients are, too.