COVID-19: Find the latest information on vaccines, testing, and how to get care.

Teams bring doctors and patients back together in popular new way

January 29, 2021
Female doctor shown during a medical appointment via video visit
When the pandemic disrupted in-person medical care, PeaceHealth quickly made a way for providers and patients to safely connect via video visits.

“I had been having a lot of pain…trying to guess what was causing it. I was able to see a doctor on a video visit and I’m feeling much better now.”

“I’m not tech savvy, but the clinic staff help me. I just sit in my kitchen with my cup of coffee and have a visit with my doctor.”

“Having a video visit was like being in the doctor’s office. I’m often out of town for work, so for me, this option is really beneficial and convenient.”

These are the kind of powerful responses PeaceHealth was hoping to hear after first making video visits an option, starting in April 2020.

Like many other health systems, PeaceHealth offered some “telehealth” or remote services for situations like stroke care or behavioral health support, but the capability to offer widespread one-on-one video visits between a provider and patient had only been in the planning stages.

When the pandemic hit, patients and providers immediately felt the impact.

Stranded from each other

Fear and uncertainty essentially stranded patients at home—keeping them separated from their doctors. Providers were also at the mercy of the unknowns—wanting to do everything possible to keep patients and staff safe from the new virus.

Leaders at PeaceHealth quickly worked with Epic, our electronic health record system partner, to make it possible for providers to visit with patients by telephone.

But phone visits would never be a long-term substitute for in-person care. With no clear end to the pandemic in sight, providers knew they’d need to actually “see” patients—in safe ways—to more fully understand what would help their patients feel better.

Putting the pieces together

Will Weider, system vice president and chief information officer and Michael Geist, MD, medical director of Informatics for PeaceHealth Medical Group, rapidly put together all the pieces and teams required to make video visits possible.

Preparing for video visits meant marshalling dozens of PeaceHealth caregivers behind-the-scenes from every division in numerous disciplines and fields to cover all aspects of planning, building, deploying and promoting a mode of delivery that most had never used before.

For analysts and technical system experts, it involved early mornings, late nights and several long weekends. It also included delivery, set up and testing of all necessary hardware—webcams and microphones—throughout PeaceHealth clinics in Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

Fully integrating into the portal

The decision was made to fully integrate video visits into the patient portal, called My PeaceHealth, to simplify things for patients, but that meant a complex undertaking by the technical team and clinics.

Physicians, advanced care practitioners, medical assistants and other key members of patient-care teams, had to quickly learn the ropes the same as their patients.

PeaceHealth leaned heavily on expertise from Epic and also leveraged partnerships with other vendors including an online meeting service, translation services and hardware suppliers. Thanks to Will’s advance planning, PeaceHealth servers already had the necessary capacity for the added demand of video calls.

“The night before launching, the system still wasn’t working correctly. We had a several-hours-long call with several analysts and technical people,” said Lorne Bigley, MD, a family practitioner and director of medical informatics in Oregon. “I watched and listened to these caregivers methodically go through all the permutations until they found where the problems were and corrected them. By the time we were done, it was working every time.”

Bridging the gap

Six head-spinning weeks from the start of the project, PeaceHealth’s pilot clinic providers successfully helped a handful of patients via video visit.

Those numbers have only grown. All of PeaceHealth’s remaining providers were set up by early summer to offer video visits, which bridged the gap that had long separated them from their patients.

Today, nearly a year later, about 7% of patient visits are happening via video—more than 80,000 visits to date.

Resoundingly positive responses from patients about the value of video visits signal that the rate of this type of visit is expected to continue to climb, even after the pandemic has faded into the background.

Making video visits available in record time was something of a minor miracle. It proved that nothing can keep our providers from caring for their patients—not even a pandemic.

Recent Stories