For patients with illnesses or chronic conditions, women in the midst of pregnancy, or parents trying to keep their kids on an all-important vaccine schedule, traveling to a doctor’s office or hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic is an anxiety-filled endeavor.
UConn Health, however, is using new technologies to ensure that patients have access to needed care and to help screen for potential coronavirus infection, while limiting the need for in-person appointments when possible.
“Right now during this period of time, where social distancing is extremely important, we want to make sure that our patients and our caregivers stay safe,” says Anne Horbatuck, Vice President of Ambulatory Services at UConn Health. “We need to make sure that people are staying home, and that they’re limiting their exposure to other people, but if they have concerns or if they have symptoms, we want to connect them with their providers.”
Enter MyChart – an innovative online health connection platform and part of the UConn Health network. While it’s not a new system, UConn Health has ramped up and changed its utilization of MyChart since the onset of the global pandemic to better meet patient needs.
“MyChart is the secure patient portal that is available for UConn patients to access their care, view test results, letters, message their providers, see upcoming appointments, pay bills, and complete medical questionnaires,” says Laura Marquez, UConn Health’s Ambulatory Director, who leads the team that launched and manages MyChart.
But MyChart goes way beyond that, and UConn Health is using it to not only conduct coronavirus screening E-Visits, but is launching a video telemedicine option with all of its doctors beginning on Wednesday, April 29.
“E-Visits functionality would normally take maybe a month or two to set up,” says Marquez. “We did that within one week. A typical implementation for video visits would be three to four months, and that would be fast. We did it in eight days.”
Video visits through MyChart will roll out as an option to all UConn Health physicians, across all departments and specialties, beginning on Wednesday, April 29, after a three-week, smaller-scale pilot program showed widespread satisfaction from both doctors and patients for the option and the connectivity of the sessions. Patients who are interested in having a video visit can contact their provider by phone or through MyChart to request an appointment.
Video visits are supported through UConn’s license for a HIPAA-compliant version of the video conferencing platform, Zoom. After logging into MyChart for a scheduled video visit and clicking, “Start My Visit,” patients are entered into a secure Zoom waiting room until their provider starts the video session.
“MyChart makes it easy for the patient — they’re able to get involved more in their care,” Horbatuck said. “This is a really great opportunity for our caregivers and our patients to try out this new technology via MyChart and have another option to connect.”
If a patient believes they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, they can log into MyChart, answer a series of questions, and provide their nurses and doctors with their medical history, allergies, and medications right through the app. Through this E-Visit, practitioners then can reach out to the patient to communicate guidelines and a plan of care without the need for a face-to-face visit.
“The E-Visit was set up to initially allow our patients to stay at home. ‘I know I need to social distance and stay at home, because I do not want to expose everyone if I have potential symptoms, but how do I get the right answers and what should I do?'” Horbatuck says. “This electronic MyChart solution helps those patients get the right answers in a safe and efficient manner.”
Providers can also schedule telephone visits with patients, which have been utilized by UConn Health providers since social distancing practices were implemented and are another option for patients who might prefer calls with their doctors to video sessions.
To maintain the security of patient health information, MyChart supports two-factor authentication during signup, login, and password resets. Additionally, UConn Health has turned off recording capabilities and chat windows in its healthcare version of Zoom to further enhance the security of video telemedicine sessions.
Marquez says the teams at UConn Health – from doctors and nurses, to support and administrative staff – have embraced the expanded use of technological options for providing care to patients.
“With COVID-19, we’ve had to adapt and adjust how we reach and deliver care to our patients. Has it been stressful? Absolutely. Has it been a ton of work? Absolutely. But, knowing what we’re doing and the positive impact that it has – giving our patients access to their caregivers – it’s just such a win.”
But patient enrollment in MyChart is key to providing that access.
“We know that health care outcomes improve when patients are engaged,” says Marquez, “and we know that when patients use MyChart, their engagement increases.”
Horbatuck says, “Our focus is on safety and quality care. The more we take part in different technologies and optimize our abilities with MyChart, we will ultimately improve our patients’ health and well-being, and that is really why we are here.”