Saturday Jan 28, 2023

Health professionals answer the call of telemedicine in Oklahoma –


Pam Olson
 |  Special to The Oklahoman

Telemedicine use in Oklahoma grew significantly as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, according to an online survey conducted by the Oklahoma State Medical Association in 2020.

The results of the survey, with 370 physicians responding, indicate that 84% did not use telemedicine prior to the pandemic, but after the crisis began, 72% of the physicians adopted telemedicine into their practice. 

Despite substantial increases in telehealth use in 2020, state physicians are reporting declines in the number of patients requesting virtual services in just about all areas except behavioral health. 

Before the pandemic, physicians were generally reluctant to embrace virtual care, as most were unfamiliar with it, reimbursement was poor, and many questioned its value.   

These Oklahoman health professionals are sharing how these online visits have affected them and their communities, and how they see this trend going forward in Oklahoma.

‘Gone is the stress of getting places on time’

Dr. Mary Clarke: President, Oklahoma State Medical Association

When she graduated the OU College of Medicine nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Mary Clarke — a graduate of Oklahoma City’s NW Classen High School — couldn’t have imagined her medical practice during the pandemic. 

Along with thousands of physicians and providers across the state, the family practice physician ended up diagnosing patients using her personal computer at home in Stillwater rather than visiting one-on-one with patients in a medical office or hospital.

In doing so, she was deviating from the time-honored medical practice of seeing patients “face to face” in her clinic — physically palpitating their bodies, looking into their ears, and listening to their hearts with a stethoscope.  

Telemedicine?  She had heard of it, but wasn’t impressed.

“It did have a stigma in the past … I hate to say ‘cheap medicine’ but it definitely was not high quality.  I’m sorry, but it’s not,” she said.

Not any more. 

Within about a week of the public health emergency declaration in 2020, physicians at Stillwater Medical Center — Clarke’s employer — had hooked up their personal and office laptops to connect with patients online.  

The decision to go virtual wasn’t complicated.

“Don’t see patients or pivot to seeing patients,” Clarke said in a conference room at the Oklahoma State Medical Association office in Oklahoma City. 

Prior to COVID 19, access to telehealth was highly restricted, with only some clinics in rural areas allowed (authorized) to use telehealth, but patients could not access it from their homes.  In response to the pandemic, and as people were being encouraged to stay home to protect themselves from COVID, (federal) regulations regarding access to telehealth were waived or relaxed to allow virtual appointments from one’s own home or any location. In addition, Medicare would pay physicians the same rate for telehealth services as they do for in-person visits.

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