Mason and Partners Clinics Expand Telehealth Capabilities to Meet Growing Demand for COVID-19 Care
April 14, 2020 / by Michelle Thompson
Underserved communities are connected to life-saving services through rapid response remote care
We live in a world where literally everything we know- going to school or work, taking the bus, seeing a ball game—has been turned on its head by COVID-19. The dramatic shortage of masks and other vital personal protective equipment (PPE) coupled with the stay-at-home order limit providers’ ability to deliver medical care, particularly for underserved populations who may not have insurance or a primary care provider.
However, despite all these changes, patients can still rely on the Mason and Partners (MAP) Clinics (a network of 10 no-cost bridge health care clinics supported by the College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University) for the care they need thanks to the rapid deployment of expanded telehealth capabilities. By expanding the MAP Clinic’s telehealth capabilities, the MAP Clinics can now directly combat the pandemic by screening for COVID-19 while helping their patients battle chronic conditions, treat substance use disorders, and address behavioral health issues such as anxiety and stress.
The nurse-managed MAP Clinics rapidly deployed HIPAA-compliant telehealth units to meet the demand of underserved communities in our region where there remains limited access to COVID-19 screening. MAP Clinic co-directors have chosen to focus more resources in Prince William County where seven of the 10 clinics are located and significant unmet demand exists among very vulnerable populations: the uninsured, those experiencing homelessness, and those being released from jail and possibly at higher risk of opioid overdose. While Fairfax County is also home to three of 10 MAP Clinics, Fairfax has existing infrastructure for testing and treatment.
Existing patients from all 10 of the MAP clinics were transitioned to telehealth visits, and the clinic has coordinated care for 700 patients in the past two weeks. Each unit consists of a tablet pre-loaded with HIPAA-compliant apps, consent forms, and teaching packets to help the end-users at each site effectively screen for COVID-19 symptoms. “The MAP Clinic telehealth initiative is the best example of teamwork and partnership I’ve ever seen. Our students and faculty from across the College are working with community partners to serve our most vulnerable patients even we cannot physically be with them,” says Dr. Rebecca Sutter, co-director of the MAP Clinics and associate professor of nursing at Mason.
The expanded telehealth model and revised protocols allow MAP Clinic staff to use their limited PPE to treat the highest-risk patients. The MAP Clinics continue to serve their existing patients, walk-ins, and those referred by the Prince William Health Department in-person two days a week at the Manassas Park MAP clinic. In addition to fighting COVID-19 head-on, this MAP Clinic also continues to provide on-going care including suboxone treatment and chronic disease panels for diabetes, depression, anxiety, and hypertension. Telehealth visits, combined with in-person care, allows nurse practitioners, registered nurses, and social workers to connect with patients regularly to see how their medications are working and provide support – especially during this stressful time. In addition to providing life-saving care for patients, the MAP Clinics provide students pursuing degrees in health informatics, nursing, and social work with experience in serving rural populations and in deploying a fully operational telehealth unit.
“It has been amazing to see the MAP clinic team coordinate the transition to telehealth quickly and responsibly while also giving students the opportunity to continue their clinical learning during this time,” says Caroline Sutter, co-director of the MAP Clinics and associate professor of nursing at Mason.
The MAP clinics are working toward point-of-care testing, which will provide results in 45 minutes. “This will be a game-changer for our patients,” says Rebecca Sutter. “Right now we can only do presumptive positive treatment, given that it can take 10 days to get test results.”
The Washington, D.C. region is considered a “hot spot” for future peaks in COVID-19 cases, and the MAP Clinics are further expanding telehealth and training capabilities to meet expected surge in demand for testing and care. Technology critical in connecting rural clinics with expertise and services they may not have on onsite--support can range from consulting on protocols and policies to helping provide services.
“AT&T firmly believes in the power of technology to connect patients with critical health care services and is proud to provide financial resources that support the expansion of the telehealth capabilities in the MAP Clinics.”
Garrett McGuire, AT&T
“There are incredibly tough weeks ahead of us and we seek to engage our community and be responsive to their needs. And technology is our connector,” says Rebecca Sutter. And though COVID-19 has unleashed many uncertainties, the MAP Clinics will always remain an important constant in the lives of the patients who rely on its services and relationships.
The MAP Clinic telehealth initiative is made possible by a $500,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Telehealth grant and a $25,000 gift from AT&T. “AT&T firmly believes in the power of technology to connect patients with critical health care services and is proud to provide financial resources that support the expansion of the telehealth capabilities in the MAP Clinics,” says Garrett McGuire of AT&T.