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Virtual doctor visits up nearly 10,000 percent amid coronavirus pandemic

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BATON ROUGE - The way people visit with their doctor seems to have changed overnight. The quick transition into telemedicine was possible because of technology that many people already have.

Dr. Andrew Smith, a cardiologist at Our Lady of the Lake, says the way people seek medical help has forever changed.

"I don't think we'll ever go back to where we were before," said Smith.

OLOL has been using telemedicine since 2018 and had always planned to use it more, but COVID-19 and social distancing sped up the process. Before the coronavirus, Smith says OLOL was seeing about 60 patients a week through virtual appointments. Now those weekly numbers are surpassing 5,000 and hundreds of more providers are jumping on board to meet the demand. It's about a 10,000 percent increase.

"It's so convenient for my patients with hypertension, heart failure or heart rhythm problems now that we have Apple Watch and medical-grade EKG digital devices that they can be at their house, and I can do essentially the job that we need to do when it's face-to-face," said Smith.

It works like another doctor's visit. A nurse takes your vitals first and goes through your medications, then the doctor comes in.

Many providers are scheduling the telemedicine appointments by a phone call or online. Billing is changing frequently, but OLOL says it's currently billing the same amount for a virtual visit and an in-person visit. With the increase in telemedicine, there are fewer people in waiting rooms putting fewer people at risk.


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