By Jack Rubinger

For Dr. Constance Ohlinger, the owner of Cadence Natural Health, and member of the Division Clinton Business Association, telemedicine has been a blessing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Telemedicine has allowed her to continue to see patients, to check in to make sure everyone is staying safe, as well as to field COVID-19 related questions and care.

In one of the worst allergy seasons in 30 years, telemedicine has allowed her to calm fears, talk facts, dispel certain treatment myths and refer patients for appropriate testing whenever indicated, all while keeping herself, her staff and patients safe.

“Before COVID-19, there was a big push from the medical community that telemedicine is the wave of the future,” said Ohlinger. “While that’s true, telemedicine has also allowed greater access to care for rural and underserved populations.

“But the bottom line,” she added, “is that technology will never replace the human connection that underlies the doctor-patient relationship. It’s also incredibly helpful to listen to a patient’s heart and lungs to differentiate a cough.”

According to an eVisit survey, about 74 percent of patients are comfortable communicating with their doctors using technology instead of seeing them in person.

Ohlinger and other practitioners like Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a family physician from Portland’s One Medical primary care practice, tend to spend a majority of their visits talking with patients anyway, so despite the lack of human-to-human interaction, the chatting part of the doctor experience hasn’t really changed.

Dr. Ohlinger gleans a fair amount of information from video consults with new at-home technologies like AlivCor (a device that can detect some heart rhythm abnormalities).

Most doctors believe there is no replacement for an in-person physical. When someone has a cough, it could be due to anything from allergies, COVID-19, standard upper respiratory infection, COPD, lung cancer, heart disease to a whole host of other potential conditions.

It’s incredible what can be determined from a thorough lung exam and it’s difficult to make potentially life-impacting treatment decisions without that information. Often it means asking patients to go into an Urgent Care or an imaging center to get a chest XRAY or other testing, which could put them and others at risk of infection.

Ohlinger uses a HIPAA compliant Zoom-feature that’s built into the patient’s electronic health record. Many medical technology companies have released similar telemedicine features in the last few months.

She also uses other technologies, including at-home blood pressure cuffs for patients with hypertension and at-home blood sugar monitors for patients with diabetes.

Portland High School students can access care using telemedicine for virtual visits and use apps to connect with their providers about their physical and mental health, a benefit during this time of isolation.

Dr. Bhuyan noted a couple of telemedicine scenarios she has encountered.

One patient, a 40-year-old woman who was exposed to a friend with COVID-19, was worried about spreading the virus to her teenage son who has asthma. While the woman was asymptomatic, she wanted to be tested quickly.

They were able to arrange a mobile test for the patient via an app. The patient visited a mobile testing site, was tested from her car and received the negative results the next day.

For patients with mental health issues and weight concerns, video visits have been a comfort. Patients have learned how to improve sleep, get exercise and stay healthy. One patient lost 14 pounds during the pandemic. Virtual group sessions are empowering patients and creating a greater sense of community.

All signs point to the ever-increasing role of telemedicine here in Portland, across the US and around the globe. With this current health crisis, remote and virtual access to healthcare is more important than ever.

Photo by Dr. Constance Ohlinger