Local Telehealth Option Opens Up Possibilities for Patients, Healthcare Providers

In the wake of social distancing and other COVID-19 measures, Humboldt General Hospital has announced a new telehealth initiative aimed at connecting providers with their northern Nevada patients via technology.

Telehealth refers broadly to electronic and telecommunications technologies and services used to provide care and services at a distance. Physicians and patients communicate via a Skype or FaceTime-like encounter. Patients can communicate via phone or computer screen.

Humboldt General Hospital Practice Administrator Robert Johnson said while COVID-19 is a pressing concern for all medical personnel, there are thousands of area patients who still need continuing care for chronic health conditions or non-COVID-19 illnesses.

“Telehealth care is a way to meet this need,” said Johnson.

Johnson said Humboldt General Hospital has more than a dozen providers who sees hundreds of patients a day.

“Like all healthcare providers, this situation has been unique for us in deciding how to be watchful for COVID-19 exposure and symptoms while still treating the person with diabetes or heart disease, or the patient with pink eye or a sinus infection.”

Johnson said telehealth isn’t new technology for Humboldt General Hospital; patients have been connected to out-of-area specialists via the technology for several years now. But Johnson said now is an ideal time to engage it fully for local providers—for both now and into the future.

Plus, most insurance companies, including Medicare and Medicaid, have expanded their coverage to include a telehealth platform.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, government payers as well as private insurers are paying for telehealth visits just as they would for a traditional appointment,” Johnson said. He said when a patient is a good candidate for a telehealth appointment, staff register the patient and verify his or her insurance just as they would with a regular office visit.

Johnson said providers decide on a case-by-case basis who is a candidate for a telehealth visit. Technological requirements also depend on whether the appointment is a new-patient visit or a return or follow-up visit.

“This is when the relationships we’ve built with our patients make the difference,” said Johnson. “We can quickly asses why our patient needs an appointment, if that appointment can take place via telehealth, and if our patients even have the technology or ability to participate over a computer or a phone.”

Johnson said patients will find the experience relatively easy. Patients will download video conferencing software on their home computer, laptop or tablet; or download an app on their smartphone. Their provider office will then email or text a meeting code that will allow them to log into their virtual appointment.

In addition to the ability to reduce exposure to the COVID-19 virus, Johnson said the technology also will overcome travel restrictions and visitor restrictions. As an added benefit, telehealth can help conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) and other clinical resources that are needed in the hospital.

Johnson said some patients may still need to come to the hospital for testing and follow-up, “but this is a great way for them to get started with care or continue care,” he said.

He added, “Telehealth is a great option for caring for patients while limiting everyone’s exposure to this virus.”

Patients should call their personal healthcare provider to schedule a telehealth visit at (775) 623-5222 or for more information; appointments also may be made via an individual’s personal Patient Portal at hghospital.iqhealth.com.