As hospitals ramp up virtual care amid Covid-19, are physicians trained? If not, here’s where to go

Telemedicine tools are now one of the sharpest arrows in our quiver as the nation prepares for a peak in Covid-19 cases but are doctors trained in performing the routine physical exam remotely?


As Covid-19 upends normal life in the U.S. with “social distancing” and “lockdowns” entering mainstream American parlance, telemedicine as a tool to care patients is gaining rapid ground.

Hospitals are introducing chatbots, even express virtual care to quickly screen for folks at risk of getting sick from the coronavirus among other applications. CMS just announced a sweeping telehealth expansion for Medicare that will only bolster the tech’s adoption well past the current crisis. For now, the focus is on prevent crowding in the ER.

A physician who oversaw the building of a telemedicine practice from scratch in the midst of a natural disaster believes that training is paramount.

You have to train nurses and physician assistants on things like setting up the environment, whether there is enough lighting and what the background looks like, explained Dr. Richard E. Thorp, president, Paradise Medical Group whose group saw its practice destroyed by the Northern California campfires in November 2018.

“For doctors,  you just have to ask more questions because you can’t examine [patients] so there were more preparatory questions to cover all the bases,” Dr. Thorp said describing setting up the PMG Connect telehealth tool with the help of Blue Shield of California powered by Teladoc.

What could those questions be?

On Tuesday, Jefferson Health announced that the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University is “providing the essential learning courses for a range of health care professionals so that patients can receive quality care while the volume of ER visits can be lessened.”

In response to email questions, Aditi Joshi, Medical Director of JeffConnect, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s on-demand telemedicine program, said that the hour-long course is designed toward any healthcare professional performing acute care telehealth or post-operative visits. Doctors, APPs (advanced practice providers) and registered nurses can get continuing education credit, while everyone else can do it for a certificate, Joshi explained.

She confirmed that the course offered by the Sidney Kimmel Medical College is the only CME-accredited course on covering a physical exam through telemedicine. The goal is to get physicians and others who are used to in-person physical exams to get proficient in telemedicine tools at a time of our deepening healthcare crisis.

The course costs $100 but group discounts are available. The course offers how to perform six common exams over a video visit including:

  • Head, Eyes, Ears, Nose, Throat Exam
  • Skin Exam
  • General and Cardiopulmonary Exam
  • Genitourinary and Abdominal Exam
  • Musculoskeletal Exam
  • Neurological Exam

“This course can make any provider more comfortable with delivering care over telehealth. It includes demonstrations of physicians doing an exam,” Joshi wrote.

Photo: Courtney Hale, Getty Images