USF Health rapidly expands telehealth to keep patients connected to medical specialists

The current coronavirus outbreak is not preventing USF Health patients from seeing their providers.

As the pandemic grew last week and most of Florida shifted to working remotely – and many health care facilities halted in-person patient visits – USF Health quickly ramped up its telemedicine capabilities across the faculty practice.

At home, a USF Health patient connects with Jen Farrant, administrator with USF Health Family Medicine.

The effort launched on Monday March 16 and by Friday March 20 most clinics had initiated components of telehealth. From that point on, teams of support staff contacted hundreds of patients to move in-person appointments into telehealth appointments.

“Within a matter of days, our patients were able to get the care they needed using technology to connect with our specialists,” said Mark Moseley, MD, MHA, chief clinical officer for USF Health and chief medical officer for the USF Health faculty practice plan.

“This type of patient experience – using remote capabilities to care for our patients – has been on our horizon for a long while. The current COVID-19 outbreak and the crisis our country is experiencing pushed telehealth to the forefront. Our team did a tremendous job of responding to this adversity and to push forward a functional solution in a little over a week. Simply amazing.”

And patients are accepting this new format, relieved to be able to maintain connections with USF Health providers, he said.

USF Health has been poised for telehealth, but federal guidelines for use was limited. Due to COVID-19, the U.S. Congress lifted restrictions on reimbursement for telehealth through Medicare, opening the technology to widespread use when patients are limited in traveling to get medical care.

Family Medicine administrator Jen Farrant helps a patient connect with USF Health.

While not every patient appointment can be done virtually, most can or at least can be initiated in that capacity with in-person follow up appointments planned.

“There are still conditions and symptoms our patients are experiencing that warrant coming to our clinics,” Dr. Moseley said. “We will still see patients in-person who have urgent medical needs. However, a telehealth appointment for most patients will meet their needs, while mitigating the risk of being out in public during this epidemic outbreak. It’s a prudent starting point for determining the best next steps.”

USF Health, along with the rest of the university, was already using a program for conducting business and academic meetings remotely. Called Microsoft Teams, the program is fairly intuitive, offering both video and audio interaction, and supported by many options for sharing documents, scheduling, and follow up details.

The experience has been well received by patients, said Renée Dubault, chief operating officer and associate executive director of Business Operations for USF Health.

“Patients are saying they are grateful we are making it available and appreciate the option to continue with their care with our specialists,” Dubault said. “Our staff has embraced our expansion of telehealth and the ingenuity that has come about to build this up so quickly has been terrific.”

Most of USF Health’s clinical specialties have added this telehealth component. Visit the USF Health telehealth page for more details. And to find out if your appointment can happen through remote telehealth, contact USF Health at 813-974-2201.

Photos by Freddie Coleman, USF Health Communications and Marketing.