By Kathryn Ruscitto
Friday, February 26, 2021
COVID-19 has taught us so many lessons, many of which we didn’t know we needed to learn. Some have been big surprises to organizations and others have helped to accelerate the work they do. In my world, board meetings, social events, fundraisers, conferences and educational forums have all worked in an online environment. We certainly lose some of the conversations and networking we experience in person but the expense, travel, time spent attending an event and the ability to interact from anywhere are big pluses.
I recently attended a Lyme disease research forum online that was hosted by State University of New York and organized by Saravanan Thangamani, MD. About 150 people attended, there were thirty presentations, materials were easily visible, and comments and questions were easily posted. It was an experience I am not sure would have happened at the same level in person.
“The online meeting allowed researchers like me to save time and resources on long-distance travel and reduce the carbon footprint,” Dr. Thangamani says. “Besides, increased participation and sharing information with a broader audience could not have happened if I had organized this meeting in a physical university building.”
On another day, I participated in a legislative breakfast via Zoom for a new organization. Ten elected officials attended without staff and then stayed to answer questions. It was efficient not having to travel to the event and the organization was able to share its message. The platform turned out to be a great way to educate.
I have also attended and helped plan five online fundraisers. I think it’s safe to say that while it’s helped during this time, it’s probably something we may discontinue when social events are able to return to normal. Organizations have tried hard to make the experience pleasant, but most people I have spoken with have had their fill of Zoom fundraising, although it may continue to work for organizations with a national reach.
So what are the implications for health care? Telemedicine has taken off, and software allows primary care physicians and specialists to more easily communicate and provide follow-up care and education for a wide range of health conditions.
Are all patients able to take advantage of this new world? Watching citizens attempt to register for COVID-19 vaccines has brought concern to this issue.
Sandra Sulik, MD, a family physician at St. Joseph’s Health with more than 27 years experience in the medical field, spoke about the importance of connecting with her elderly patients while keeping them safe at home.
“It not only allows us to continue the medical care for their chronic illnesses but also provides a touch-base point for many of the folks who live alone and are so isolated,” Dr. Sulik says. “Many of our visits are ideally suited to telemedicine, such as follow-up care for depression and anxiety and many other chronic illnesses that require mostly discussion.
“It does provide some challenges. Many situations require hands-on examination and of course that can’t be done via telemedicine. The technology, especially with the video visits, can be challenging for some clinicians and patients as well. Most of the time though, a really good visit can be accomplished.”
The reality is we are not going back to a pre-COVID-19 world, but we need to understand what has worked and what needs further analysis. How will we debrief these experiences and build toward a better future? This is an opportunity for our professional societies to explore.
Hopefully, we will see a return to a more normal environment later this year — let’s take the learning forward.