NHFM is Now Offering Virtual Visits

As concerns grow over community-spread COVID-19, North Hills Family Medicine is now offering virtual visits with the hope of keeping sick patients at home and reducing exposures in the office. A virtual visit is an appointment with your provider during which live video is used. All aspects and quality of the visit are similar to an in-person visit, except you don’t have to commute to the clinic.

Your first virtual visit (telehealth visit) might feel intimidating, but it shouldn’t worry you one bit.  With some preparation, you can be sure to have a great first visit and finish the session satisfied, and not feeling like the technology was at all a hindrance to connecting with your provider.

The platform that we use is Zoom, one of the industry leading providers for secure, efficient video conferencing that allows us to provide HIPAA compliant, secure visits. Virtual visits are never recorded and are encrypted to ensure privacy.

Here are some tips to make your virtual visit a success.

  1. Choose an appropriate setting and technology

What you will need:

      • Either a laptop with a camera or a smart phone with a camera.
      • Internet connection/wireless connection
      • Private area

Plan ahead to make sure that you have a private setting for the entire duration of the appointment.  Most individuals have the appointment in their home or apartment, but on occasion, some individuals need to leave their home, go out to their vehicle or to a nearby park.  If you are going to be at work, you might want to schedule the appointment during your lunch break so that you can step away easily.

  1. Installing Zoom on your device.

You must have Zoom downloaded on your device, but you do not need to create a Zoom account.  Zoom usually downloads automatically when you click the meeting link that is emailed to you when your appointment is made., but you can install Zoom before the appointment on your device here: https://zoom.us/support/download

Zoom is available to be installed on a laptop, iPhone or Android device.

  1. Checking your internet speed

Having fast, reliable internet is integral to the visit.  If your bandwidth/speed is slow, the video will lay and cut out causing a frustrating experience.  For some people in poor cellular coverage areas, this means getting on a wifi network.  If you live in a city, and have good cellular signal strength, you can most likely use your cell service, but keep in mind that if you use your cellular network, the data transferred will add to your monthly limit.

To help you decide which network to use, go here to check your wifi speed. Greater than 10 mb/s on download and upload is recommended. If you are getting less than 10 mb/s, consider changing your network. If you are not getting internet speed greater than 1 mb/sec, you will not have a good experience and we recommend postponing the appointment until you can find faster internet.

  1. Testing Zoom

Now that you have made sure you have a reliable internet connection and download/upload speed, you should test your device to make sure the setting are correct to work properly with zoom.  The easiest way to do this is to joint a test meeting at: https://zoom.us/test

You will want to make sure you:

      • Give your computer/device permission to use the camera and audio.
      • Can see yourself in the app. If you see your name, or an icon, then your camera is not working properly.
      • Do not have an external speaker or headphones that will automatically connect unexpectedly.
      • Consider using the ‘Test my Audio’ feature within Zoom: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201362283-Testing-Computer-or-Device-Audio?mobile_site=true It will have you speak into the microphone, and then it will replay the sound back to you.
  1. Video Tips

If your provider can’t see you well, it will make it more difficult for him/her to pick up on certain non-verbal cues. By ensuring we can see you, we will be able to understand you better, leaving you more satisfied that you delivered your point to us. In addition, insurance requires that we can see you, otherwise it is not considered a telehealth (virtual) session and is not covered by insurance.

      • Try to maximize front-facing lighting, and minimize lighting behind you.
      • Try to have most of your upper torso visible, from about your abdomen and up including your arms.
      • If using a phone, prop it up to make it more steady. A stable image would be very much appreciated by your provider, and will help you take your mind off having to hold your phone.
  1. Logging into your Appointment

When your appointment was scheduled an email was sent to your email address provided that contains the Meeting ID.  You will simply click the link and it will take you to the appointment.  You may join ahead of your appointment time and will wait for the provider to join the virtual visit.

If you have not joined the meeting by your appointment time, the provider or a nurse may call you directly asking you to join in.

If you have any problems joining or did not receive the email, please contact the office.

If for any reason the provider is concerned that additional testing is needing (i.e.: Flu test, Strep test, COVID-19 testing) we will instruct you to drive to the clinic and we will have a nurse with appropriate protective gear meet you at your car to conduct testing.

Please call the office today to schedule your appointment.

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Social Distancing

To slow the spread of COVID-19 through U.S. communities, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has encouraged Americans to practice “social distancing” measures. But what is social distancing, and how is it practiced?

What is social distancing?

Social distancing is a public health practice that aims to prevent sick people from coming in close contact with healthy people in order to reduce opportunities for disease transmission. It can include large-scale measures like canceling group events or closing public spaces, as well as individual decisions such as avoiding crowds.

With COVID-19, the goal of social distancing right now is to slow down the outbreak in order to reduce the chance of infection among high-risk populations and to reduce the burden on health care systems and workers.

Why Is the CDC Recommending It?

According to the CDC, coronavirus is spread mainly through person-to-person contact. It’s believed that people who are in close contact (within 6 feet of one another) are most likely to spread it. It spreads through respiratory droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of anyone nearby and may be inhaled into the lungs, which can spread the disease.

And while it’s believed that people who are the sickest are most likely to spread coronavirus, some people might spread it before they begin to show symptoms. That’s why it may be important to practice social distancing even with people who don’t appear ill.

It may also be possible to contract COVID-19 through contaminated surfaces or objects. An individual who touches a surface that has the virus on it and then touches their own mouth or nose, for example, may contract the virus.

The CDC believes COVID-19 spreads easily throughout communities. So they have recommended social distancing as a way to help stop the spread.

If individuals reduce their contact with one another, people will be less likely to pass the virus on. This can be the best way to prevent what they refer to as “community spread.”

While the CDC isn’t recommending everyone take drastic measures like isolating themselves, they are advising people to take precautions, especially those who may be at a higher risk for contracting the disease.

Flattening the Curve

You may have seen references in the news or on social media to “flattening the curve” as a goal of social distancing. When new cases spike very quickly, hospitals and other medical facilities can be overwhelmed and unable to adequately treat everyone—including patients who are not actually dealing with the coronavirus. Such spikes are more likely when social distancing measures are not enacted quickly and early enough.

By slowing the number of new cases and stretching them out over a longer period of time—or “flattening the curve” of new cases—we can keep the number of total cases (and the number of high-risk cases) below that threshold, so that our hospitals have enough space and resources to operate as smoothly as possible during this difficult time.

How do I practice social distancing?

The CDC defines social distancing as it applies to COVID-19 as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.”

It’s particularly important—and perhaps obvious—to maintain that same 6-foot distance from anyone who is demonstrating signs of illness, including coughing, sneezing, or fever.

Along with physical distance, proper hand-washing is important for protecting not only yourself but others around you—because the virus can be spread even without symptoms.

The most obvious way to practice social distancing is to avoid crowded public places where close contact with others may occur. These might include movie theaters, religious gatherings, and crowded restaurants. Of course, it’s not always easy to practice social distancing.

Tips and Tricks 

  • Opt for online meetings rather than workplace gatherings whenever possible.
  • Work from home if you can.
  • Postpone major social gatherings.
  • Consider video-chatting with friends and family rather than meeting in public places.
  • Limit or postpone air travel and cruise ship travel.
  • Stock up on vital items so you don’t have to go to stores as often.
  • Order groceries from a delivery service.
  • Shop online rather than in stores.
  • Stay home if you are sick

On the broader scale, a number of actions taken in recent days are designed to encourage social distancing, including:

  • Schools, colleges, and universities suspending in-person classes and converting to remote online instruction
  • Cities canceling events, including sporting events, festivals, and parades
  • Workplaces encouraging or mandating flexible work options, including telecommuting
  • Organizations and businesses canceling large gatherings, including conferences
  • Houses of worship suspending services
  • Public and private libraries modifying their operations and restricting people from gathering by allowing people to come in only to pick up materials that have been reserved or requested on-line or by telephone
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