Telehealth keeps patients, doctors in touch

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 8:15am

Telehealth makes it possible to be seen by your physician through a regularly scheduled appointment – from your living room, kitchen, or dining room. In March, Wiscasset Family Medicine began using the electronic technology.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Mary Rafter said telehealth visits are great for people who have chronic conditions being successfully managed, such as mood disorders (including bipolar and depression), anxiety, COPD, addiction and support; and to check in on senior/elderly patients and/or their caregivers.

“It offers a continuity of care and keeps patients at home,” said Rafter. “I see maybe half of my patients (she sees 15-20 daily) this way … but I will say there’s something lost in the relationship when you’re not seeing the patient in the office.”

Telehealth visits include conversations about how previously prescribed medications are working; how the patient is feeling, how everything is going in general – just like an in-office visit. However, patients in any physical pain, who are having trouble breathing, are experiencing chest pains, or who have other symptoms of illness, need to be seen in person at the office on Water Street.

“The patients all really like using the telehealth visits … once they get past the set-up,” said Rafter, with a tiny chuckle.

Set-up can be tricky, particularly for patients who aren’t steeped in computer use and set up knowledge, including making sure the camera and microphone are turned on. Search engines can help. Type in, how to turn on camera and microphone on your kind of device.

Patients make appointments with their WFM healthcare provider by phone or through the patient portal at Once the appointment is scheduled, the patient receives an email confirmation. The day of the visit, an emailed reminder arrives in the patient’s inbox with an orange button bearing a camera symbol with “Start Televisit” next to it.

The telehealth option has helped out many during the sheltering in place order Gov. Janet Mills issued in March. Patients who were not feeling up to driving to the office or who were concerned about being around other patients used this method to see if they should be tested. “There are testing guidelines for COVID-19 that we received from (Miles Memorial Hospital in Damarscotta) to tell us how to decide who is the priority,” explained Rafter. “For example, people over 65, the chronically ill, the homeless, women in their third trimester of pregnancy ...”

After discussing their symptoms, patients most often are instructed to stay home, rest, drink fluids and get some sleep. If they aren’t feeling better, or have begun to feel worse over the course of a few days, patients are instructed to call the office for an appointment. If COVID-19 is suspected, testing is performed at Miles.

Rafter said, very recently there’s been a shift in patient thinking related to the virus and coming to the office.

“It’s about 50/50 now that we seem to be flattening the curve (on the virus). And we have masks for people to wear who may not have one. Doctor’s offices aren’t seen as hotbeds for the virus now.”

Rafter said there’s been an unexpected perk with telehealth. “I have had tours of patients’ homes, met their pets, seen their backyards and gardens … It’s a sweet glimpse into their lives.”

If you receive medical care from the doctors at John F. Andrews Family Care Center in Boothbay Harbor, you are in luck! The Center began holding telehealth visits just two weeks ago. After a patient has called to make an appointment, they are sent an email with directions.