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The Doctor is in the House: Virtual Care During COVID-19

Gillette Children’s is expanding its virtual care options to help our patients receive needed care as the “stay at home” orders are extended to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

Our top priority is keeping you and your family safe. To help during this time, Gillette is offering virtual appointments via video whenever possible and clinically appropriate. These virtual care appointments are secure and can be done via computer, laptop, iPad or smart phone.

Gillette sleep medicine physician, John Garcia, MD, is busy seeing many of his patients via virtual care appointments. He says he can see four to six patients in the morning and another four to six in the afternoon. Garcia says new patient appointments typically take an hour and returning patients will spend about 30 minutes in their appointments.

John Garcia, MD is a sleep medicine physician at Gillette.

John Garcia, MD is a sleep medicine physician at Gillette.

A useful option

Why is virtual care a useful option for patients and families?

The first benefit to virtual care is it avoids the burden of possible COVID-19 exposure. We want to help limit any possible exposure for everyone in the community.

It’s also convenient for families. During this period parents are often working from home and balancing child care issues because kids are not in school. A virtual care appointment is convenient because we can meet the family where they are and child care and work are not big hurdles.

It’s also very good for families who live outstate. I’ve had parents tell me “I would have failed to come to this appointment if it meant I had to drive to Gillette. I needed have this appointment be virtual.”

Describe what a virtual care appointment is like for your patients?

It’s a simple process. I have the appointment on my calendar. I click and open a meeting and the video comes up and I can immediately join a conversation with the parents.

People are really used to these types of meetings now. It’s remarkable.

Welcoming me into their homes

Why are the benefits of a virtual care appointment vs. a phone appointment?

I’ve heard 80% of our communication is non-verbal. Virtual care appointments let me see those non-verbal cues. I can also see the unspoken fears and emotions on the face of parents and kids. In Minnesota we’re trained to sort of hide and not talk about our emotions. I can sort of see what they’re going through by looking at them during the virtual care appointment.

I can also see the growth and physical aspects of the kids.

As someone who is a sleep specialist, virtual care appointments are beneficial for me because I can see the activity level of the child.

For example, I recently had a virtual care appointment with a parent and a 6-year-old girl. I could see the child was very active. In fact, this child was overly active. I was assessing this child for help with sleep issues. At one point during the appointment the child was so noisy and active the parent took the child to another room and sort of leaned against the door so the child was in the other room while they were talking to me. The parent asked, “Do you think I need to get my child assessed for attention deficit disorder?” Based on what I observed I could quickly say, “YES! Please have your child assessed by your primary physician and then contact me again so we can work on the sleep issues.”

What are you hearing from patients and families who have had a virtual care appointment?

The families who see me via virtual care LOVE the appointments.

When it comes to virtual care appointments I have a 100% success rate when it comes to parent showing up for their appointments.

Parents find it is convenient and they can pick a time that works best for their family.

Another benefit is parents don’t have to worry about getting child care for their other children or have a concern about taking their other children out during this time. Also, parent report they’re grateful they don’t have to physically come to the hospital and risk the possibility of exposing older relatives to germs.

My grandfather was a physician in the Spanish Civil War. He told me stories of making house calls to his patients. This reminds me of that time.

In a sense I’m making a house call to my patients.

I’m touched and honored to be invited into their homes. I had a parent say, “My home is humble but we’re happy here.” I want to assure families that there is no judgement. We’re not judging your home. We’re very glad to see you and your family.

This feels like a more intimate connection with families. They are literally welcoming me into their homes. I think it strengthens the bonds between doctor and patient. It takes the visit out of the rather sterile clinic setting and back into the home. It really lets the families know that we’re on their side. We will meet you where it’s best for you and be available to provide the best care for your child.

These are tough times and we want to help. We’re all learning new ways of helping each other.

To make a virtual care appointment at Gillette please call 651-290-8707.

During these unprecedented times, Gillette Children’s continues to provide essential care to our patients and important resources to the community. Help this support this vital work by donating.