Venice Family Clinic, a nonprofit community health center that serves nearly 28,000 people in need, announced today that it is resuming in-person appointments for routine health care after relying on telehealth for the vast majority of its consultations since Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the March 19 stay-at-home order to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Venice Family Clinic has continued to provide in-person appointments for patients who had urgent needs, and it relied on telephones for appointments with patients who couldn’t come to the Clinic or didn’t need to be seen in person. With the governor moving forward to reopen the state’s economy, Venice Family Clinic is now encouraging some patients to resume in-person visits and vision care. The Clinic is also working to resume dental services soon.
“While we have been incredibly successful in expanding our telehealth service to provide comprehensive care, we want our patients to know they can safely return to Venice Family Clinic to get the type of care that can only be provided in person, such as vision care, vaccinations and well-child visits. This also includes in-person assessments for chronic diseases, such as heart failure and advanced kidney disease,” said Dr. Despina Kayichian, Venice Family Clinic chief medical officer. “We don’t want patients to further delay vaccinations and the other in-person care they need because delays could put their health at risk.”
The Clinic has adopted new precautions to protect patients’ and staff’s health and safety, including requiring temperature checks before entering its sites, face coverings for all patients and staff and at least six feet of separation from non-household members while in the waiting rooms or other shared patient areas. The Clinic has also established traffic patterns inside and outside its clinics to accommodate COVID-19 physical distancing requirements, and it has increased disinfection and sanitation of frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs and counter tops. Patients believed to be infected with COVID-19 will be kept apart from other patients, as will any other patients with potentially contagious diseases.
“Our top priority is the health and safety of our patients and our staff,” said Kayichian. “I applaud our team of health care professionals for quickly adapting to the use of telephones for consulting with patients at the outset of the pandemic so that they could continue to provide high-quality, comprehensive care. We will continue to use telehealth for services that can be easily conducted over the phone.”
The Clinic had used telehealth in the past to help patients managing chronic diseases – such as diabetes and high-blood pressure – to monitor their health. It expanded its use of telehealth after the agencies that administer Medicare, which provides insurance coverage to people age 65 or older, and Medi-Cal, which provides insurance coverage to low-income Californians, announced in March that they would reimburse health care providers for telehealth visits during the pandemic. Several private insurers subsequently announced similar policies. Telehealth currently accounts for 76% of the Clinic’s billable appointments.
But neither Medicare nor Medi-Cal, which provides coverage for one in three Californians , has said they will continue to pay for telehealth services when the emergency ends. Venice Family Clinic is urging the federal and state governments to make a commitment now to continue to reimburse for telehealth services after the public health emergency ends because these services help expand health care access for people in need.
“Many of the patients we serve have limited transportation options and may have to take several buses to get to a clinic site,” said Kayichian. “They frequently work in jobs with limited or no sick leave, so they may have to give up all or part of a day’s pay to see a doctor. A virtual visit saves them time and money, and it increases the health care system’s capacity to see more patients by freeing up exam rooms and other clinic space.”
Submitted by Laura Mecoy