Telehealth Extends Coverage of High-Risk Maternal-Fetal Care

June 1, 2021 | by Audrey Carr
Telehealth Extends Coverage of High-Risk Maternal-Fetal Care

The U.S. is facing an unprecedented shortage of obstetricians and gynecologists (OB/GYNs). According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, around half of the nation’s counties don’t have access to even a single OB/GYN, which means more than 10 million women are in need of OB/GYNs for primary care. Alarmingly, there are now 8,000 fewer women’s health specialists than needed, and that number is predicted rise to 22,000 by mid-century.

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As the nation’s largest group of Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM) and OB/GYN Hospitalist providers, Obstetrix Medical Group is uniquely addressing this critical issue. With multiple diverse TeleMFM programs around the country, Obstetrix provides a key solution for hospitals and community OB/GYN physicians that improves access to specialty care for women with high-risk pregnancies.

Mednax clinicians have long relied on the benefits of telehealth to complement traditional in-person care. MFM providers specifically have utilized various forms of telehealth since the late 1980s. Today, virtual care continues to play an essential role in bridging distance gaps and bringing the highest quality care to patients in need, no matter their location. Through the use Vsee, one of Mednax’s primary telehealth platform vendors, as well as others, clinicians across the country are finding a silver lining during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though helpful in any region, in the rural areas of the Mountain West, it has become even more of a blessing. We spoke with Oliver (Bill) Jones, M.D., about how telehealth integrated into their practice and how it has positively impacted their high-risk patients.

A need for change

Obstetrix Medical Group of Colorado has been practicing for over thirty years and provides outreach to Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska-- a geography that requires long travel time for either physicians or patients. Although they have been in practice for a while, using telehealth to care for patients has accelerated in use for most members of their group. Dr. Jones explains that their team flew across states to meet with their patients before the pandemic, making for very long days. In addition, the unpredictable Colorado weather sometimes affected the flight’s departures and return times. Dr. Jones laughs, remembering a particularly nasty snowstorm back in November of 2019 that jumpstarted the conversations about telehealth. The flight to Casper, Wyo., was cancelled but Dr. Jones did not want the patients to have to reschedule appointments. He worked with the sonographer to come up with an alternative solution of virtual visits. He was able to read the ultrasound images from the medical center PACS system at the time of the visit and to speak with the patients over a video call. Seeing how well virtual doctor’s visits worked (not to mention what the Obstetrix practice saved on airfare!), the group decided to offer more appointments via telehealth. The Obstetrix practice now routinely schedules telehealth prenatal diagnosis visits at multiple locations.

Patient impact

Dr. Jones admits he prefers being physically present with his patients, but telehealth appointments have been able to fill in some of the voids the pandemic has left. “It’s allowed us to still have that face-to-face connection and interaction that we miss and love to have with our patients,” Dr. Jones says.

He also shares that many of the patients he and his team care for come from rural, low-income areas where access to maternal-fetal specialists is a challenge for pregnant women and for the obstetricians and family medicine physicians who provide the care. “We have gotten a lot of feedback about telehealth from those patients. They are grateful that they do not have to drive great distances to see us to receive the care they need. For some of those families, finding gas money or even transportation can be difficult, so I’m glad we now have this resource we can provide to them.”

The future of telehealth

As virtual care becomes more integrated into daily patient care, Dr. Jones recognizes the necessity for state and national-level discussions on handling this approach. “Although we are still early on in this process, we will soon need to have conversations about issues treating patients across state lines and the implications it has on billing and medical licensure. It is a non-traditional way to interact with patients, and that will take some adjustment,” he says.

Throughout the telehealth implementation process, Dr. Jones says he is grateful for the support he received from his partners in sharing the work and also a fellow Mednax practice, Rocky Mountain Pediatric Cardiology. “The cardiology group implemented telehealth before we did so we were able to ask questions and learn from their experiences,” he says. Dr. Jones is hopeful other groups will follow suit with a collaboration like this and form or build on existing relationships with practices across the country.

Oliver (Bill) Jones, M.D., is board certified in Obstetrics & Gynecology and Maternal-Fetal Medicine. Dr. Jones graduated from the UCLA School of Medicine in 1983. He completed his residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Arizona in 1988. His fellowship in Maternal-Fetal Medicine at The Unviersity of California San Diego was completed in 1991. He then joined the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology faculty, Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, at the University of Colorado. In 2000, Dr. Jones left the University of Colorado and joined Obstetrix Medical Group. He is interested in all aspects of high-risk obstetrical care.

Learn more about Mednax’s telehealth solutions.