The Shift to Telehealth
September 17, 2020
On January 21, 2020, the United States started its New Year with a case of the mysterious pneumonia sickness that was spreading in China. As cases continued to rise into February, leaders at the Volunteer Healthcare Clinic in Austin, TX felt it was prudent to begin monitoring the situation closely. With guidance from Austin Public Health and the CDC, they began ramping up prevention education efforts and quickly had additional screening and safety protocols in place. By March 4, 2020, Texas had its first case of COVID-19.
The pandemic continued to spread, changing life for Americans everywhere and forcing organizations and businesses to reconsider how they were serving their constituents. On March 17, 2020, the Volunteer Healthcare Clinic ceased face-to-face medical appointments.
This TMF grant recipient, known for providing access to healthcare for the working poor and uninsured, realized their space was simply too small to ensure safety for their patients, staff, and volunteers. It was a difficult and necessary decision that could have upended their services without a well-conceived transition plan.
“We asked ourselves how we could continue our patient care in a new way and when we developed an answer to that question, the entire staff and board worked seemingly nonstop to transition to telehealth,” Executive Director Marci Roe shared.
Information went out to all of their patients that in-person appointments would end for the foreseeable future and what the Clinic would be doing to continue services in lieu of in-person appointments. For chronic disease patients, the Clinic created a curbside pickup for medications, made three month supplies of critical medications available, and hosted check-in calls with nurses that could be followed up with on-demand doctor consultations. Patients were asked to keep track of their numbers for things such as diabetes and hypertension, so medication adjustments could be made. Additionally, all patients who had been walk-ins to the clinic were notified of telehealth and pharmacy options that would be made available through the Volunteer Healthcare Clinic.
Patients were incredibly thankful to shift to curbside medication pickups and telehealth appointments. Through this transition, they had access to their normal healthcare and they had access to nurses who could answer questions about the pandemic. As a result of this strategic teamwork, patient care never missed a beat during the transition and the clinic has been able to embrace some critical expansion goals.
In order to expand their capacity, they wanted to hire a part-time nurse practitioner or other mid-level provider, in addition to hiring a part-time lab technician. This will provide stability in terms of scheduling and availability, since most of their doctors and nurses are volunteers.
“We wanted to expand in this way and when we received TMF’s grant unexpectedly, I was able to tell our board we already had the funds we needed for the first year. In addition to expanding capacity, this will improve our services and our continuity of care,” Marci said with gratitude. “The people we serve have seen their needs rise exponentially during the pandemic, so it was a huge relief for me to focus on our patients’ needs and the operational logistics of meeting those needs and not have to think about fundraising. TMF’s support in that moment allowed us to revamp and reimagine our efforts without worrying about finances, which was a real gift.”
As the Volunteer Healthcare Clinic in Austin reimagines how they will expand their services and safely provide care during this crisis, TMF is grateful its grant funds continue to be used to empower the world of God’s imagination.