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"Tele-medicine" popular in Montana because of social distancing

Posted at 8:36 AM, Apr 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-10 10:37:51-04

While the COVID-19 pandemic is straining some medical providers – its social restrictions also have made it difficult for regular patients to see physicians in person.

Because of that “tele-medicine” is getting a big boost in Montana.

At Bozeman Health, before the Covid-19 outbreak, patients could visit their doctors “virtually” through tele-medicine – but it wasn’t being used very often.

Dr. Mike Spinelli, internal medicine physician, Bozeman Health tells MTN that’s changed, in a big way.

“Over the course of the last four-to-six weeks, the amount of tele-health that we’ve been doing has increased dramatically," said Spinelli. "I think that almost everybody that is at Bozeman Health right now in family medicine or internal medicine is trying to get up and running on one tele-health platform or another.”

Spinelli has been using Zoom, a video-conferencing program that allows patients and doctors to see and talk to each other.

And in Helena, St. Peter’s Health and insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield have taken it a step further, with something called Tyto-Care.

Tyto-Care allows virtual communication, between doctor and patient – but it also has a device, the physician can use to observe vital signs of the patient, like heart rate or breathing.

The hospital and insurer had planned a Tyto-Care pilot project, using the device on Blue Cross employees, at their office.

But with the advent of Covid-19 – they’ve gone live with the program, distributing 200 devices to Helena-area nursing homes – assisted-living centers – and various patients.

Todd Wampler, the chief of staff at St. Peter’s Health, said through last week, they’ve done 1,400 virtual patient visits with TytoCare.

Blue Cross officials said they’ve also earmarked $100,000 to help other hospitals or clinics buy similar tele-medicine technology.

Spinelli said physicians still want to see patients face-to-face, when they can – but that tele-medicine is becoming a new normal, for many visits.

“If there are things that come up where a physical exam is necessary or there is something where I really need to get them in for a face to face appointment, I can just drive in and meet them at the office. But the majority of people I’m seeing are through tele-health.”