Happy Telehealth Awareness Week 2020!
The third week of October each year is celebrated as Telehealth Awareness Week by the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance (SCTA) and its partner organizations. The purpose of Telehealth Awareness Week is to highlight and promote the many ways that telehealth is being used for
medical consultations across multiple healthcare specialties within our state. From school-based health centers to emergency stroke services aboard
ambulances, to genetics consultations – South Carolina’s residents and providers are benefitting from telehealth services every day!
Telehealth at the Greenwood Genetic Center
GGC launched its telehealth initiative in 2016, which began in the Center’s Florence office. GGC initially received assistance and support from the SCTA
to establish our telehealth program, which was featured in a video produced by SCETV.
Over the past four years, the telehealth program has adapted, evolved, and improved to meet the needs of our families and providers. GGC providers
have now seen over 2,500 patients via telehealth, and our appointment numbers continue to grow! To read more about the GGC telegenetics program, it
was initially featured in a blog post in 2017,
and additional details about our current program can be found on the GGC telehealth webpage.
Telehealth during COVID-19
Many GGC providers already had some experience seeing patients through telehealth when COVID19 emerged as a major public health threat earlier this year.
A system to triage referrals, schedule patients, and conduct appointments via telehealth was already well-established. Therefore, GGC was in a better
position than many medical offices to adapt to primarily seeing patients via telehealth appointments or “virtual visits” through all of our offices
starting in late March 2020, when recommendations to avoid the spread of COVID-19 included avoiding in-person appointments whenever possible and having
more employees work from home.
While GGC’s telehealth program was already flourishing prior
to COVID-19, significant updates and adjustments were quickly needed to expand telehealth services to all of our offices, providers, and patients.
It has truly taken a team effort from all GGC departments and employees to expand the program in response to the COVID19 pandemic. The GGC administrative,
IT, billing, clinical, laboratory, and education departments have all undergone rapid transformations in order to provide virtual visits, collect testing
samples from patient homes, run laboratory testing, and meet the educational needs of our communities. GGC remains committed to providing the highest
quality healthcare services to all patients and their families, and we continued to adapt and improve based on the needs and feedback of our families.
Is telehealth as effective as in-person visits – or maybe better? How can we tell?
To attempt to answer this question, GGC participates in research projects that collect data about telehealth within the genetics specialty, or telegenetics.
This research aims to track how many patients are seen through telehealth, determine patient/family satisfaction with telehealth visits, and explore
other outcomes that can assist with creating, implementing, and promoting effective telehealth programs.
When the telehealth program at GGC first began, patient satisfaction surveys revealed that most families were very satisfied with their appointment and
would choose to do a telehealth appointment again in the future! The data from this initial study were analyzed by a PhD student at Clemson University
and an article is currently under review for publication in a telehealth-based medical journal.
Another ongoing project by a genetic counseling student at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine is investigating many factors related to
the GGC and patient telehealth experience. This project is exploring the differences between rates of testing and diagnosis for patients seen in-person
versus virtual visits, comparing missed appointment rates between the two types of appointments, examining billing/insurance issues, and looking at
geographic data related to travel time for an appointment. The results of this project will be available in the spring of 2021, and will likely be
submitted to a medical journal for publication to serve as a resource for other organizations who use – or hope to use – telehealth for genetics consultations.
Several GGC telehealth providers participate in regional and national telemedicine workgroups, including the Southeastern Regional Genetics Network (SERN),
National Society of Genetic Counselors Health IT Special Interest Group, and the National Coordinating Center. GGC faculty have also presented our
experiences with telehealth at state, regional, and national meetings including the South Carolina Telehealth Summit, SERN/Southeast Regional Genetics
Group, and the American College of Medical Genetics. By participating in telehealth-focused workgroups with other organizations and publishing research
about our program, we are able to share our experiences and successes, while learning about new ways to improve and expand GGC’s telehealth program
for the benefit of the patients we serve.
For more information about Telehealth Awareness Week and the SCTA, check out their website and follow their
Blog post by Katy Drazba, MS, CGC, a genetic counselor in GGC’s Columbia office and a telehealth pioneer at GGC who is an invaluable resource to both her patients and her colleagues. Katy is pictured above in her home office where she counsels patients during COVID-19.
Also pictured – Camerun Washington, MS, CGC, of GGCs Greenville office uses visual aids on his computer to counsel patients via telehealth