Virtual Visits Accelerate Urology Patient Care

Man having virtual doctor's visit

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Brigham’s Division of Urology has harnessed telehealth technology to ensure continuation of care for patients and improve patient outcomes.

According to Quoc-Dien Trinh, MD, the division’s director of ambulatory clinical operations, the pandemic was a catalyst for increasing the use of virtual visits with urology patients. From March to October, the division conducted over 6,000 virtual visits, with patients checking in from the Boston area as well as other parts of New England, from Maine to Rhode Island.

Month Virtual Visits
Oct. 2019 84
Nov. 2019 86
Dec. 2019 65
Jan. 2020 44
Feb. 2020 61
Mar. 2020 652
Apr. 2020 1,132
May 2020 1,132
Jun. 2020 1,079
Jul. 2020 879
Aug. 2020 854
Sept. 2020 882

The Brigham’s Division of Urology has seen a marked increase in virtual visits since the onset of COVID-19.

“We had been doing virtual visits for quite some time,” Dr. Trinh said. “With COVID, however, many of the technology, licensing and insurance barriers were lifted, which opened up telehealth opportunities for more patients.”

Dr. Trinh, who specializes in treating prostate cancer, said that urology is well-suited for this type of patient care because physicians can care for patients without always needing to examine them physically.

“Of course, it’s ideal to see patients in person,” he said. “But most have had a complete workup prior to seeking a second opinion. The virtual visits also give physicians the flexibility of working from home, which helps us maintain social distancing.”

72-Hour Consults Avoid Delays and Speed the Process

The Brigham’s Division of Urology guarantees a 72-hour turnaround for urgent virtual visit requests, although the actual turnaround time is often shorter. This accelerated schedule has been particularly useful for patients who want a second opinion from one of the country’s leading urology programs but can’t or don’t want to travel to Boston for in-person visits.

“We had a cancer patient who was trying to get a second opinion,” Dr. Trinh said. “He called multiple hospitals and clinics during the height of the pandemic and was quoted a wait time of six to eight weeks. We were able to see him virtually within 24 hours and schedule his surgery within two weeks of the initial consult.”

According to associate surgeon George E. Haleblian, MD, avoiding delays in care delivery is one of the prime benefits of virtual visits.

“When we can get a patient into a virtual consult within 72 h, the whole process is accelerated,” he said. “We can get them into the system, start them on presurgical pathology testing, make sure they are fit for surgery and do all that prep work before they come in. It makes for a more efficient system.”

Secure Messaging System Identifies Patients at Risk

Virtual visits are just one way the urology division uses technology platforms to deliver more efficient and higher-value care. For example, physicians also use a secure text messaging system to track patients with kidney stones after discharge from the Emergency Department (ED). The goal for the system is to identify those at high risk of returning to the ED.

“We communicate with kidney stone patients interactively by pushing out text messages that asks them questions related to their pain levels and symptoms such as nausea and vomiting,” Dr. Haleblian explained. “Once we identify those high-risk patients, we can bring them in urgently for an evaluation in the clinic or a definitive procedure.”

Drs. Trinh and Haleblian commended Adam Stuart Kibel, MD, chief of the Brigham’s Division of Urology, for his leadership and openness to adopting new technologies. ”

Dr. Haleblian added that incorporating these new telehealth technologies has helped the division improve patient engagement. “We’re making expert care from Brigham physicians more accessible to more people in a more expedited fashion,” he concluded. “It is a whole new way to access care.”