In the months prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Olympia Orthopaedic Associates (OOA) was in the trial stages of exploring telemedicine. The experiment was timely. Once the pandemic hit, technology became one of the key ways the physician-owned practice has been able to continue to serve patients with non-emergent conditions, i.e. those that can wait for surgery until a later date. “We had to reduce the number of people we’re seeing in the clinic to maintain social distancing,” says Dr. Richard Lamour. “It turned out we had to roll this out a lot quicker than we’d planned.”

Now, many routine appointments that would normally happen in person occur via video chat. The platform is perfect for follow-up visits, check-ins, and preliminary diagnoses to determine whether a patient’s condition requires them to come into the clinic. “We can see and speak with patients and even review medications and look at imaging studies together,” says Dr. Andrew Manista. “There are things we can do over that medium that don’t involve bringing that patient in and potentially exposing them to the virus.”

Dr. Andrew Manista misses seeing patients in person but finds telemedicine is a tool with many benefits. Photo courtesy: Olympia Orthopaedic Associates

Although Manista misses seeing patients live (“I’m a hugger,” he says), the switch to telemedicine has enough benefits that OOA plans to continue using it once the crisis has passed. “The silver lining to our cloud is that we can take patients from all over the state,” he explains. “Why have someone drive three hours from the Olympic Peninsula to tell us that their shot worked, they have no side effects and have no changes to their medicine? That’s something you could do perfectly well over the phone or by video, and it works great.”

Patients can also do follow-ups on MRI scans to determine whether physical therapy will be sufficient, or surgery is necessary. “You can have that conversation and look at the images together on somebody’s lunch break at work,” says Manista. “That’s pretty cool.”

Dr. Darrin Trask agrees and adds that many patients find the telemedicine appointments reassuring. He points out that current quarantine conditions and economic uncertainty can aggravate existing conditions. “If you have daily aches and pains, the more stressed you are, the more you’re going to be aware of those. Often when I talk to patients, it’s simply working through some strategies they can try at home.”

Olympia Orthopaedic Associates
Patients find the telemedicine appointments reassuring, according to Dr. Darrin Trask, as they deal with the stresses of the COVID 19 outbreak. Photo courtesy: Olympia Orthopaedic Associates

Telemedicine can also help when patients lack information and are unsure about their condition. “They’re scared it could be something really awful,” says Manista. “Understanding that the pain they’re having is knee arthritis and not cancer can put someone’s mind at ease, and they can deal with the pain a lot better because it’s not the unknown anymore.”

Another benefit is efficiency, according to Lamour. Telemedicine appointments tend to be highly focused, with an emphasis on problem-solving and treatment. “We get on the call and talk about what the problem is, the status of the person’s condition, and our plan moving forward,” he says. “Everything is a bit quicker with telemedicine methods because they’re more directed.”

The change has required a dramatic shift in scheduling for OOA practitioners and staff. Whereas previously, doctors might have had two full clinic days of seeing patients live in addition to three days of surgery, now they spend mornings on in-person visits and afternoons doing telemedicine. “We’ve been doing in-clinic visits in the morning, such as post-ops appointments or people who have staple sutures that need to come out,” says Lamour. “These are people who need to be seen physically.”

While COVID-19 is the foremost health issue on most people’s minds, other emergencies continue to happen that require orthopedic surgery. “There are still people breaking bones and having crises,” says Manista. “I get called into the hospital for those, but I’m not doing three days a week of elective spine surgery.”

Olympia Orthopaedic Associates
Telemedicine has dramatically altered the daily schedule, says Dr. Richard Lamour, and generally made appointments more efficient. Photo courtesy: Olympia Orthopaedic Associates

The main message he has for patients: the team at OOA is committed to continuing to care for people in the community safely so they can back to life in motion. “We take our model very seriously,” he says. “We realize that this virus is very dangerous and scary for everyone involved. We want to find a want to provide musculoskeletal care to people, and telemedicine is one of those avenues that is allowing us to do what we can.”

Trask believes that the crisis might propel breakthroughs or new ways of doing things. “Whenever we, as human beings, have some kind of trial, that’s when we innovate and push things forward,” he says. “This is a global pandemic that has massive implications. We can learn from it and move everything forward once we come out on the other side.”

Learn more at the Olympia Orthopaedics Associates website or by calling 360-570-3460.

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