The COVID-19 pandemic has seen an increase of digital healthcare, especially by older adults. Telehealth, telemedicine, or what’s referred to as digital care, has expanded access to medicine, reducing disease exposure for staff and patients, preserving scarce supplies of personal protective equipment, and helping curb patient demand on facilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Telehealth allows a patient to visit with a doctor using video on a smartphone or computer with a camera from the comfort of your home just as you would in the doctor’s office. The goal of telehealth is to make treatment more convenient and more cost-efficient. What is more, it is a lifesaver for patients with chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure who aren’t in need of emergency treatment, but need regular medical advice on lifestyle regime, or medicine dosage.

Access to telemedicine services have been valuable for those patients who are reluctant to seek in-person care or who have chronic conditions that place them at high risk for severe COVID.

Ongoing availability and promotion of telemedicine services in Green Valley and Sahuarita, along with growing acceptability by patients and health care providers, may continue to serve as an important modality for delivering care during and after the pandemic, and well into the future.

United Community Health Center launched telemedicine in March 2020 as a result of the pandemic. A UCHC patient can request and schedule a telemedicine appointment with their provider just like they would schedule a regular appointment.

“Telemedicine has made it possible for patients to receive quality healthcare without visiting a healthcare office,” says Sydney Watts, marketing coordinator at UCHC. “For a patient to prepare for a telemedicine appointment, they will need a smart phone, computer or tablet with a front facing camera and a valid email address.”

An email address will be used by a UCHC staff member to send important paperwork, including a telemedicine consent form, Watts says. If possible, the patient will be asked to take their own vitals including weight, temperature, blood pressure and oxygen level prior to their appointment time.

“The fear of getting sick coupled with the lockdowns, kept many people from seeking healthcare services,” Watts says. “However, even during times like these, it is very important that people stay current on regular healthcare needs. This is especially true if they have a chronic condition that requires medication and frequent monitoring. Our clinical staff can help determine what type of visit is best for your needs.”

UCHC is also offering their patients COVID testing.

“If a patient has a known COVID-19 exposure, a telemedicine visit will be conducted in order for their provider to determine if a test is needed,” Watts says. “If the patient’s provider recommends testing, the patient will be given instructions on where to go for testing which is done on a drive-through basis. The entire process happens while the patient remains in their car.”

The Arizona Telemedicine Program (telemedicine.arizona.edu) founded by Ronald S. Weinstein, M.D. at the University of Arizona, offers resources for patients as well as medical practitioners including the Telemedicine & Telehealth Service Provider Directory connecting patients with providers offering medical services online statewide. ATP has provided consultations on 60 specialties, including cardiology, echocardiology, dermatology, genetics, infectious disease, neurology, oncology, orthopaedics, radiology, rheumatology and urology.

The Connect Green Valley app (connetgv.org) offers a list of local medical providers who may offer telehealth options. The Green Valley Medical Directory on the Green Valley Council website at gvcouncil/gvc-medical-directory is another resource for those seeking medical providers, many of whom offer telehealth options.

Santa Cruz Valley Regional Hospital and Santa Cruz Valley Physician Group are offering telehealth appointments, including COVID-19 assessments. Northwest Healthcare and Banner Health offer online scheduling as well as telehealth services to their patients.

Counselors at Posada Life Community Services provide virtual or phone counseling for those who request the service. Psychology Today (psycologytoday.com/us) also lists counselors offering teletherapy locally and in Tucson.

The goal of telehealth is to make treatment more convenient and more cost-efficient. What is more, it is a lifesaver for patients with chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure who aren’t in need of emergency treatment, but need regular medical advice on lifestyle regime, or medicine dosage.

Call your provider and ask if your appointment can be done by video. Some appointments require a physical examination in order for the doctor to meet the standard of care and make fully informed decisions. But many appointments can be managed well through virtual interaction. These may include certain visits for:

• Minor illnesses such as colds and allergies

• Minor injuries such as sprains

• Follow-up care

• Medication management

• Chronic disease management

• Back pain

• Other specialty care