Nurse Practitioner Ashley Mowen talks with a patient on the computer during a telehealth visit at the Rocking Horse Center Wednesday. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Coronavirus: Rocking Horse looking to expand telehealth services

The Rocking Horse Community Health Center in Springfield is looking at ways to expand its telehealth services after introducing them in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The option allows patients to have a check-up or meet with a health care provider virtually without leaving their homes. That can include having services that are conducted through a video chat or updating patient information over the phone.

Those with the health center are currently looking at ways to expand upon that concept. Additional telehealth related services could include providing certain equipment to those patients. That could include tools needed to monitor a patient’s blood pressure and heart rate.

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The goal is to enable patients to provide that information to their physicians via telehealth thus making the virtual option more feasible, representatives of Rocking Horse told the News-Sun.

Another option that is being discussed by Rocking Horse is looking at ways to potentially send community health workers to patient homes. The idea is to provide assistance needed to help set up telehealth appointments. That could include access to certain technology that the patient may not have otherwise, those representatives added.

They said they are currently looking at ways at how to direct and provide funding as well as support for those options.

It is part of a growing effort to expand patient services amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and to make sure patients are not missing opportunities for those services, said Rocking Horse’s CEO Kent Youngman.

He said things such as telehealth or hybrid visits that are designed to reduce a patient’s potential exposure will likely become fixtures for the community health center. They are also looking at a plan to expand and sustain those services for at least the next two years.

“We are having a very good response from patients and providers. We expect this to be a permanent part of how we deliver services,” Youngman said.

He said telehealth services also serve as a good approach in dealing with some obstacles in the healthcare field such as transportation and other similar barriers to services that patients may have.

Yamini Teegala, the chef medical officer for Rocking Horse, said they are expecting at least 18 months to two years before there is a readily available and affordable vaccine for COVID-19.

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That includes multiple factors associated with the widespread use of vaccines; which include costs, availability and how the supply chain looks.

In the meantime, Teegala expressed that it is important for patients to have continued access to services such as checkups and to continue to keep up with physician appointments. In addition, that also includes keeping up with immunizations, especially for younger patients.

Overall visits, including virtual ones, at the health center have dipped due to the panemic. For the week that ended on April 25, Rocking Horse conducted about 1,150 visits, with 60% being telehealth. However, the average number of weekly visits before the pandemic was between 1,500 and 1,600, said Youngman. However, he noted they are starting to pick back up.

Rocking Horse continues to remain open for in-person visits. However, they have implemented hybrid visits as well. That includes patients filling out information in their car or waiting before being brought into the facility.

In addition, the health center is designating time Wednesday evenings for immunizations that will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. for the remainder of the month. In June they will be hosting physicals.

There will be a curbside option for the immunization services, which will focus mainly on childhood illnesses. For this month, those Wednesday evening services will be for children that are ages 11 to 17, said Christy Detrick, the director of nursing for Rocking Horse.

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