The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all in different ways. But for patients with heart problems, ignoring symptoms like an irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia can lead to serious complications.

Dr. Mark Mitchell and Dr. Michael Drucker of Novant Health Cardiology in Winston-Salem recently discussed the shift to virtual care and how it’s making a big difference for their patients.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way you care for patients?

Dr. Michael Drucker Novant Health Cardiology
Dr. Michael Drucker.

Drucker: When the pandemic hit, we encouraged all patients to stay home to slow the spread and help flatten the curve. And although we have started welcoming patients back into our clinics, we are trying to cut down on the amount of traffic coming into our office so that we can continue to prevent the spread of COVID-19. During this time we have had to think of creative solutions like the implementation of virtual care to continue to provide for our patients.

Q: Why is staying home and ignoring heart issues a concern?

Dr. Mark Mitchell Novant Health Cardiology
Dr. Mark Mitchell.

Mitchell: It’s important to remember that ignoring heart problems, even during a pandemic, can lead to serious consequences. Remember, even mild symptoms can be a sign of a potentially serious heart problem. It doesn’t matter if you are having a heart attack or just experiencing something that feels off in terms of your heart beat, getting help quickly can help patients avoid serious heart problems.

Q: Is virtual care just as good as an in-person office visit?

Mitchell: In the pre-COVID-19 era, if a patient went to the emergency room to be evaluated, or if we sent them to the hospital to have some tests done, they would then be sent back to our clinic for a follow-up evaluation. But now, many of those follow-up visits are happening at the same high level of quality with virtual care. This shift has been quick and I can understand why patients might feel that an in-person visit might result in better care. In many cases the necessary test results are already available in the electronic medical record. Whether we meet in person or on a video visit, I have access to the same information I need to advise the patient and make treatment recommendations.

Q: How have patients responded to virtual care appointments?

Drucker: Surprisingly, most patients are very open to the concept of virtual visits. If you think about it, most patients just like everybody else are reluctant to go outside during this time. And it helps that the technology is relatively simple to use. I’ve seen patients from the ages of 20 to 90 and they all seem to embrace it.

Q: Are virtual visits here to stay?

Mitchell: I think video visits are here to stay. Before COVID-19, although we had the capacity to offer virtual visits, we really weren’t doing very many of them. Now, we are averaging as a health care system nearly 7,000 virtual visits a day.

Drucker: We’ve also noticed that these virtual visits by nature are just more convenient for our patients. In many cases we treat patients that live far away from our clinic, or in other states for that matter, and those patients appreciate not having to drive so far to receive care.

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