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Mayo Clinic looks into future of telehealth, virtual health care

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- Three Mayo Clinic health professionals spoke virtually Tuesday about the advantages of remote care and the future of the health care provider-patient relationship.

Dr. Bart Demaerschalk of Mayo Clinic Arizona, Dr. Steve Ommen of Mayo Clinic Rochester and Dr. Bipinchandra Hirisave Krishna of Mayo Clinic Mankato met over Zoom to discuss the progress of remote care since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I would indicate that prior to the pandemic, digital health was rapidly growing and well-respected and utilized as an adjunct to in-person health care, but there were broadly reservations around its use from patients, consumers, practitioners, hospitals and health systems," Damaerschalk said.

Courtesy of Mayo Clinic

At its height, the pandemic is blamed for an 80 to 90% drop of in-person health care appointments.

"Beyond the height of the pandemic, we have witnessed a decline in the use of digital health care but not back to the pre-pandemic levels," Damaerschalk said.

A new law in Arizona is expanding the definition of telehealth to be more inclusive, meaning providers will be compensated for helping patients when they aren't in-person or virtually face-to-face.

"From a reimbursement standpoint, both government and commercial payors are reimbursing telemedicine activities on the same basis as in-person activities," Ommen said.

The trio of doctors hopes to see that law adopted in Minnesota and Florida as well.

From a patient-provider relationship standpoint, Damaerschalk said there is no drop from in-person health care to telehealth according to a recent study of stroke patients in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare.

"The empathy expressed by the telemedicine doctors and other health care professionals was equivalent to those of physicians and other health care providers in an in-person interaction," Damaerschalk said.

Dr. Damaerschalk speaking on the Zoom call

Damaerschalk also recounted his difficulty to tell the difference between telehealth and in-person practices from a provider standpoint.

"I was completing documentation on my patients, and I had actually forgotten in several instances whether I had seen that patient in person or if I had seen them by telemedicine," Damaerschalk said. "I paused for a moment, because to me that resonated, as it should, that digital health care is health care."

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Ethan Humble

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