During the COVID-19 pandemic, orthopaedic trauma surgeon Ivan Tarkin, MD, and his team at UPMC Presbyterian had to adapt. Despite the lockdown, people were still breaking bones and needing surgery — especially older, more fragile patients. To avoid unnecessary exposure, they offered patients “face-to-face” follow-up appointments via telemedicine.
“Our work didn’t stop because of the pandemic,” says Dr. Tarkin, chief of orthopaedic traumatology at UPMC Presbyterian. “Telemedicine proved to be very important during that time. It’s like using FaceTime to see patients.”
“Seeing” Patients Virtually
As a long-time innovator in telemedicine, UPMC had already invested in technology to deliver health care at a distance. When the pandemic hit, UPMC was poised to handle increased use of its telehealth services to provide safe, quality care, says Dr. Tarkin.
Also known as virtual visits, telemedicine allows patients to receive care remotely with video conferencing using a computer webcam or mobile device. Anyone needing a physical exam or additional diagnostic testing must still go to the office.
“Postoperative care for orthopaedic or fracture surgery is fairly straightforward,” says Dr. Tarkin. “I just need to know what your symptoms are, how your wound is healing, and how the bones look on an x-ray.
“I can usually tell how someone is doing within the first 5 seconds just by looking at their expression. When I smile and they smile right back, I know we’re on the right track,” he adds.
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Older patients often have bone disease, or osteoporosis, which makes them more likely to get a fracture. “A simple fall — sometimes no fall at all — can result in a fracture at the hip or above the knee,” says Dr. Tarkin.
Being able to see patients remotely for follow-up appointments especially helps older, more vulnerable patients. Transportation can be difficult to arrange — particularly for patients with limited mobility who have to travel by ambulance.
Telemedicine means they can have follow-up visits from the comfort and safety of their home, senior living facility, or rehab center. They can see their doctor without risking exposure to COVID in waiting rooms or having to deal with parking and traffic.
“Telemedicine makes complete sense. We have the technology to communicate with patients, look at the data, and see x-rays. Bringing them into the office for a 15-minute visit really isn’t necessary,” says Dr. Tarkin.
A New Norm
Dr. Tarkin says telemedicine has been well received by patients young and old. In fact, it’s even been used by patients who live far away and want to continue seeing their surgeon in Pittsburgh.
“Most patients prefer to see their original surgeon rather than having to establish care with someone who wasn’t involved with their operation,” says Dr. Tarkin.
“At UPMC Presbyterian, we’re a Level 1 trauma center. We take care of people from this area, and well beyond. If I do complex reconstruction surgery on someone who lives in North Carolina, it’s a lot easier to hop on the computer versus flying to Pittsburgh for a follow-up appointment with their doctor.”
According to Dr. Tarkin, telemedicine is here to stay.
“Although the pandemic has been a challenging time, many good things have come from it — especially different technologies for us to communicate and provide care from a distance,” he says. “I think virtual visits are here to stay.”
To learn more about telemedicine at UPMC, visit our website.
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About UPMC Orthopaedic Care
As a national leader in advanced orthopaedic care, UPMC treats a full range of musculoskeletal disorders, from the acute and chronic to the common and complex. Whether you have bone, muscle, or joint pain, we provide access to UPMC’s vast network of support services for both surgical and nonsurgical treatments and a full continuum of care. As leaders in research and clinical trials with cutting-edge tools and techniques, UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside appears on U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of the top hospitals in the country for orthopaedics.