What can an ENT do via an online or telemedical or telehealth visit?

What can an ENT do via an online or telemedical or telehealth visit?

While everyone understands the utility of seeing a psychiatrist or a primary care physician via video chat, it can be hard to see how a specialist visit can be done online. Still, my experience and the available evidence suggests it can be really helpful. Additionally, currently during the coronavirus pandemic, the American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery is recommending all providers limit patient care to urgent and emergent in-person visits. 

To begin, I would argue that most of the diagnosis for any medical specialty comes from the doctor actively listening to the patient’s story and symptoms and asking poignant questions. 

Furthermore, most experienced physicians have a sort of ‘spider sense’ about who is sick and worrisome, and whose symptoms can be monitored for a bit longer. Video chat allows us to determine this by actually seeing the patient face-to-face. 

In ENT, through the use of video, we can examine a lot of the facial anatomy. 

Things we can do:

-a decent cranial nerve exam 

-evaluate any swelling or skin lesions 

-check eye/neck/tongue/facial muscle movements 

-assess bleeding

-with the use of a camera flash or flashlight, you can actually get a decent oral cavity exam

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(This isn’t as good as an exam with a tongue blade, but it certainly allows visualization!)

-with some software, the patient or a family member can even transmit an ear exam of anterior nose exam if they purchase a device like the firefly otoscope 

Together, all of this information can provide an ENT with a good sense of how to begin treating a patient. More importantly, it can help an ENT to determine whether a patient needs to be seen in the office or not. 

What can’t be done online? (Why an ENT may ultimately want to schedule an in-person visit)

The beauty of online visits is that it helps to determine who may need to be seen in-person at an office. 

For some symptoms, we will need to perform a hands-on exam at our office to ensure we are not missing anything concerning (like an infection or cancer). 

Often, your doctor may want to use a microscope or endoscope to examine a patient more closely. We call this ‘endoscopy,’ and it is typically quick and pain-free. It allows us to examine internal regions of the body or regions of the body that cannot be adequately observed with the naked eye. When making certain diagnoses, this type of in-person observation can provide vital information. 

I have included some endoscopy images below to give a sense of how much detail and anatomy we can observe with a physical exam in the office. 

(Above: on the viewers left a normal eardrum, on the viewers right a septal spur in the nose)

Should a patient be seen online or in person? The beauty is a patient doesn’t necessarily need to decide. Many ENTs are now offering online visits as a screening method. Depending on the results of your online or telehealth visit, your doctor may or may not ask you to come into the office. 

 

Can I FaceTime with My Doctor?

The short answer is yes! For now.

In light of the current coronavirus crisis, the US department of Health and Human services has allowed patients and doctors to connect over a select group of encrypted services like Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, or Skype.

Prior to the current coronavirus pandemic, doctors were required to use a secure encrypted video chat service to discuss a patient’s health issues. All video chats were required to meet HIPAA compliance, which is a set of standards for health information security. The policies were changed for coronavirus, however, so that patients could safely practice social distancing while still remaining connected to their doctors and able to have their everyday health concerns tended to.

You can find the full policy, as updated for coronavirus, here.

Below is an excerpt from the HHS Policy.

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Can an ENT help differentiate coronavirus from a sinus infection?

While I always recommend patients coordinate care with their primary physicians, ENTs are specialists of the upper airway, which is where COVID-19 often presents itself. In light of long wait times at urgent care centers and primary offices, some ENT’s are willing to help perform coronavirus screening via online visits.

Indeed, many symptoms of a sinus infection mimic those of coronavirus. Both a sinus infection and coronavirus can lead to symptoms of cough, runny nose, fever, and fatigue. An ENT may be able to help differentiate between the two or suggest potential treatment options depending on your symptoms, or help determine when coronavirus testing may be needed.

One interesting symptom of the coronavirus is that there are emerging reports (that have not been fully verified) of a loss of taste or smell associated with the virus. In general, most patients with loss of taste or smell will be referred to an ENT, so many ENTs are already treating or seeing coronavirus patients. I recommend you call your ENT’s office first to discuss, and this would be a perfect question for a telemedical or telehealth visit.

Currently, there are no at-home testing options for COVID-19, however, in the next few weeks, there may be at-home test kits available.

What is a telemedical or telehealth visit?

Manan on Iphone

 

In the past few days, I’ve been asked a lot about telemedicine by many of my family members/mother’s friends (I love you mom!). To help clarify, in the next few posts, I am going to help answer some really basic questions on telemedicine.

First up: What is a telemedical or telehealth visit or online visit?

A telemedical or telehealth or online visit is a way for patients to connect to their healthcare providers virtually, without stepping foot into a doctor’s office. 

Often this involves using a smartphone with a camera, or a laptop with a camera, to connect a patient with a physician to allow for a video chat, but it can also mean a simple telephone call with your provider.

What are the benefits of a telemedical or telehealth visit?

Telemedical or telehealth visits allow patients to have continued access to care from the comfort of their home. During this changing time, it allows access to your provider without risking exposure to coronavirus. 

There are other benefits for patients though:

  1. You save on travel time. The visit can be done from anywhere. (Seeing your doctor in your bathroom however, might be awakened for all. Patients may want to keep their surroundings in mind.) 
  1. No need to wait in an office waiting room. 
  1. These visits are always more cost effective then an urgent care; for most plans they can be billed through insurance. 
  1. Can help determine whether or how urgently you need to be seen in person.

Do I need software or a special application?

This depends on what software your healthcare provider is using for the telemedical or telehealth visit. Some telemedical software does require you to download an application, and this is usually easily done through your smartphone’s application store. Other telemedical software does not require you to download anything new.

Finally, in light of the current coronavirus emergency, the department of Health and Human Services is allowing providers to use some popular applications that allow for video chats, including Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, or Skype.