Connecting our world at UW Medicine

Making Telehealth More Accessible


Highlights | Virtual visits at a library near you

  • UW Medicine is partnering with the King County Library System to increase access to telemedicine.
  • Access to technology, to the internet and to privacy are barriers to care when it comes to virtual visits.
  • In a new pilot program, patients at select UW Medicine Harborview clinics can see their provider virtually in a private room at a convenient library location.

Telehealth became an integral part of our care strategy during the pandemic to help patients safely access care. While telehealth is an essential tool, there are also barriers for some patients. Not every patient has easy access to the internet, devices with video capabilities and a private space to attend a virtual visit.

“As we were rapidly expanding the use of telehealth across all UW Medicine clinics, we quickly realized we needed to pay close attention to who is and who is not using it,” says Nick Meo, MD, assistant professor of medicine and associate medical director of quality and safety for UW Medicine Harborview Medical Center. “This led us to think about the digital divide concept, that rapidly rolling out this technology creates a separation for the people who can access and use it and the people who couldn’t.”

Enter the King County Library System, which has equity and access core values that align well with UW Medicine’s mission to improve the health of the public.

The partnership between the two organizations aims to reduce disparities in access to telehealth by providing a safe and secure space and connection to healthcare. The pilot allows UW Medicine patients to conduct a telehealth visit from a private room at one of five South King County library locations.

“Not everyone has the ability to utilize telehealth. Having low barrier, accessible points in the community is important,” says Meo.

Who can participate in the pilot?

The pilot is open to UW Medicine patients at Harborview seen at clinics participating in the pilot. These Harborview clinics are working to identify patients that may benefit from a library-based telehealth visit or who may have had unsuccessful telemedicine encounters in the past, says Erin Aas, MSN, ARNP, CPHQ, senior ambulatory QI analyst at Harborview.

How does an appointment work?

Patients can have a virtual visit booked with their provider at five brick and mortar King County Library System sites south of Seattle located in Enumclaw, Federal Way (320th), Rainier Beach (Skyway), Tukwila and Des Moines (Woodmont). The patient doesn’t need any technical knowledge; all they need to do is book their appointment through UW Medicine and show up at the prearranged library location. UW Medicine will reserve the space at the library while library staff will set up a private room and are available to make sure the patient has a secure Zoom connection established.

Library staff do not have access to MyChart or patient records and they will only see the patient’s first name. Patients can even use pseudonyms if it makes them more comfortable, says Aas.

How accessible is the program for libraries and clinics?

The King County Library System has been an access point for technology in local communities for years. The partnership brings accessible care to patients where they’re already using these community technology resources.

In addition to making healthcare more accessible to patients, the program is also easy to use for clinic scheduling liaisons and library staff.

The only additional steps are reserving a room (from the library’s end) and communicating a Zoom link to the library (from the clinic’s end). All the patient needs to do is show up.

As for cleaning protocols, Harborview’s infection prevention team checked out the library’s current procedures and gave them a gold star.

What makes this program unique?

Although this program isn’t the first of its kind, what makes it unique is that it is easily replicable and could be used in other clinics or even other hospital systems with different medical record systems.

“We have developed a system that can go anywhere and is feasible for the clinic and the library. It’s unique and something that has the potential to have widespread impact,” says Audrey Barbakoff, EdD, MLIS, the community engagement and economic development manager for the King County Library System.

Moreover, the impact is why this patient-centered and community-oriented pilot is so important.

“As part of the larger national conversation on inequities and access to telemedicine, there is a lot of talk about it but there is very little intervention,” says Aas. “I think this is one example where we have acutely attempted something to create different access points rather than just opining on the problem.”

The library has the existing infrastructure and individual meeting rooms to make the program work. They also have the same established trust from the community that Harborview does, and that makes this partnership a perfect pairing.

“One of the core opportunities that the library can provide is to connect people to care in an environment that is safe and comfortable and welcoming,” says Barbakoff. “We want to leverage the existing infrastructure and trust to provide people the connection to the really important care that they need and that they get from Harborview.”

Although they don’t entirely know where this pilot will lead, Aas says they very much believe in their partnership with King County Library System.

How can UW Medicine clinics get involved in the pilot?

Clinics across UW Medicine are welcome to join the pilot program. If your clinic is interested, email Erin Aas at eaas@uw.edu.

 

Photo Caption: © Yaroslav Danylchenko / Stocksy United

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