An editorial from Bill Wertman, Big Bend Hospice CEO

At Big Bend Hospice (BBH) we believe it is critical to focus on safety while doing our part to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.  Hospice Care in the time of COVID-19 is challenging, that is a fact.  Providing quality care for those living with a serious illness is a signature piece of our mission, one we take very seriously.  COVID-19 has pushed us to look at innovative ways to provide quality end-of-life care all while assuring staff safety.       

Covid-19 has brought telehealth to the forefront and it is one of many new tools we have learned to employ in patient care over the past few months. The Health and Human Services Secretary gave Florida hospices temporary authority to use enhanced tools and programs like telehealth and BBH began using telehealth to provide services like routine home care and the re-certification of a patient’s hospice eligibility because it just made sense. 

Telehealth is already deployed successfully by neighboring states like Georgia to provide health-related services and patient information through telecommunication technology.  Georgia also passed a law in 2006 to provide for telehealth parity where telehealth services are equal to in-person services and reimbursed at the same rate. Time and time again telehealth has improved care coordination and the patient experience as patients are able to access a doctor or nurse from the comfort of their own home. 

BBH serves eight counties in the Big Bend area which covers countless square miles therefore, telehealth is viewed as a convenience for patients as well as a cost saving measure for the organization.  With such a large territory, telehealth has helped reduce the barriers of transportation and communication and the costs associated with both.  For the under-served where transportation is a challenge, many go without medical care but telehealth is helping bridge the gap. 

Utilizing this type of technology has enabled our physicians and nurses to interact with more patients and families and spend less time traveling to and from far away clinics. Our physicians have also utilized telehealth to help re-certify patients when visits are not needed.  Our nurses are available to more families through telehealth to answer questions about a patients’ change in condition or if they need unscheduled care.  Virtual care has allowed other BBH staff the ability to continue to serve patient-families when face-to-face contact is not an option.  Social Workers and Spiritual Counselors who are not allowed in facilities at this time due to COVID-19 can continue to aid families using telehealth.  Our Music Therapists have conducted therapeutic sessions through telehealth as well and these sessions have been successful.