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Telehealth Patient Story - Ears, Nose and Throat Clinic Summer 2020

August 25, 2020

Instead of renting a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, driving two hours and risking exposure to COVID-19, the Hall family from Tuscola, Illinois jumped at the chance to have a telehealth visit with an SIU Medicine surgeon.

Suffering from multiple sclerosis, Vicki Hall often makes the painful trip to see her various doctors in Central Illinois, including the trek to Springfield to see several of her SIU Medicine doctors. In January 2018, she was also diagnosed with esophageal cancer. After radiation treatments, her cancer is now in remission, but she struggles to swallow. To see if she’s a candidate for a procedure to have her esophagus stretched, head and neck surgeon Sandra Ettema, MD, PhD, met with Vicki and her family in a virtual visit.

“Prior to COVID-19, we used telehealth where the patient traveled to their local, often rural, physician’s office and it took a lot of coordination with that clinic for someone to be trained on how to operate the technology, to set everything up for the patient, and then also do basic vitals on the patient for us,” said Dr. Ettema.

When the pandemic began, SIU Medicine clinics turned on a new version of telehealth to reach patients in their homes, in just a few days.

Using video chat technology, Dr. Ettema could talk with Vicki and listen to her describe her swallowing concerns. She then could recommend that Vicki go to her local hospital to do a swallow study – that way Vicki didn’t have to travel to Springfield in an uncomfortable car for Dr. Ettema to determine her symptoms and explain that she needed a swallow test.  She also didn’t have to travel to Springfield to have the test – she can complete it closer to home. The results are then sent to Dr. Ettema for review.

“SIU Medicine offers such a specialized group of otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) surgeons, some of our patients are willing to travel very far distances to have surgery here,” said Dr. Ettema, who focuses on treating disorders of the larynx and voice. “For me to do a post-operative visit using telehealth, I can check on them without asking them to travel so far so soon after a surgery. I can see what they look like. I can hear how their voice sounds and have them cough. There are so many things I can see and hear via telehealth that lets me know if they are recovering well after surgery.”

For the Hall family in Tuscola, it made their lives easier and they could maintain the same high level of care with a very specialized surgeon.

“With four grown children, we all help take Vicki to appointments and care for her,” said Rex Hall, Vicki’s husband. “With the video chat option, we could also have our daughter come over and join us for the visit to hear everything the surgeon said too.”

 “We can actually provide a higher level of care because we can check on someone virtually more often, and they aren’t waiting in the waiting room if I’m running late.”