Telehealth a big help at CH Hospital during pandemic

by Elspeth Lodge
Posted 3/3/21

The use of telehealth in palliative care at Chestnut Hill Hospital has exploded over the past 10 months, according to B. Brent Simmons, MD., Chief of the Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine at the hospital and Director of the Drexel University/Tower Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship Program.

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Telehealth a big help at CH Hospital during pandemic

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The use of telehealth in palliative care at Chestnut Hill Hospital has exploded over the past 10 months, according to B. Brent Simmons, MD., Chief of the Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine at the hospital and Director of the Drexel University/Tower Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship Program.

Dr. Simmons has experienced the ways in which telehealth has empowered patients and their families to make decisions during the Coronavirus pandemic. It’s been difficult for patients to see their loved ones in the hospital due to visitor restrictions for the safety of the community, so health care workers have been connecting patients to their families through video.

“We were able to use iPads,” said Dr. Simmons in an interview last week, “so that we could connect families directly to patients via Facetime, so they could get a better sense of their loved ones — see them with their own eyes in real time — as far as how they looked, what they’re doing, what their breathing pattern looks like, etc.”

This is a relatively new way for the hospital to use technology. “If I think back, I might have had one or two cases over the years where we used that kind of technology. If there is a family member in another country, for example, or a faraway state, but those were few and far between, whereas with Covid we were doing it every day.”

At the hospital, Dr. Simmons has had many cases over the last few months in which visuals have made all the difference in terms of what treatment a family thought was in a patient’s best interest. “I think it’s so hard to understand how sick someone is if you can’t set eyes on them,” Simmons said, “and although there is nothing that fully substitutes for that interpersonal and face-to-face contact of being in the same room as someone, the visual interface of using FaceTime and the iPads was the best that we could do, and it really did help a lot of families to come to terms with how sick our patients were.”

Physicians are also using video technology for family meetings on a larger scale than before the pandemic. During meetings, they can discuss the goals of treatment with families of patients who are critically or terminally ill. “Traditionally, what we would want to do is bring everybody into the hospital, sit everybody together,” said Simmons.

“That face-to-face and interpersonal contact is important. But, when we can’t do that, the next best thing is at least being able to see everybody’s faces. And to do Zoom meetings or Facetime with groups of people to be able to talk as a group about how to move forward.”

What makes these meetings unusual is that often they might have one family member who couldn’t make it to the meeting call in. But now, it’s everybody calling in. “The scope of it is much bigger,” he said.

Dr. Katherine Savage, a Hospice and Palliative care fellow at Chestnut Hill Hospital, added that the hospital has been using telemedicine and video in outpatient settings as well during the pandemic out of necessity.

“We have an outpatient palliative care clinic where we’ve been meeting with patients and their caregivers and families over video. It’s a way that we can speak and see patients and their families ... And all of those things have been through video and telemedicine.”

In terms of inpatient care, Dr. Simmons said that Chestnut Hill Hospital has been great about providing the technology needed to help patients during the pandemic. “It’s not like I was bringing my iPad from home,” he said. “They had specific Covid room iPads that were provided by the hospital.”

For more information, call 215-248-8727 or email bbs36@drexel.edu   Freelance writer Elspeth Lodge is a Chestnut Hill area resident and author of “The Garden Ducklings,” a children's book published last August by Archway Publishing, a division of Simon & Schuster.

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