Elevating access to HIV care through telemedicine
Technology helps patients connect with providers for fast, convenient care.
Telemedicine has improved access to health care by offering patients the option of completing appointments from the comfort of their home. In 2017, UF Health Jacksonville received a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support telemedicine efforts for patients living with HIV. By using the hospital’s UF Health Virtual Visit program, patients of the UF Center for HIV/AIDS Research, Education and Service (UF CARES) have been able to complete appointments with their providers in a more convenient way.
Reetu Grewal, MD, medical director of UF Health Family Medicine and Pediatrics – Baymeadows and the grant’s lead researcher, has made significant progress with the program since 2017. Grewal and her team have increased the number of participating health care providers, increased usage among patients and expanded the number of presenting site locations where patients can easily access the technology required.
“We know access to technology or a strong Wi-Fi connection can be a barrier for patients seeking to use telemedicine,” Grewal said. “Almost all of our primary care practices are set up as presenting sites, and we have five community-based organizations that help us to reach more potential patients.”
All presenting sites have a tablet to help patients conveniently connect with a UF CARES provider. Staff on site are trained to help with appointments. The locations help patients reduce time spent commuting to and from their doctor’s office if they do not have the capability to connect at home. Patients can also choose to visit organizations they’re comfortable with, such as the Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network, to use the tablets and complete an appointment.
Grewal has made progress in her collaboration with UF CARES providers to increase the number of appointments the team completes. She eases concerns by sharing how virtual care has been successful for her and other colleagues to efficiently manage clinic days and reach more patients.
Nizar Maraqa, MD, medical director of UF CARES and a pediatric infectious disease specialist, says the team has embraced the concept and with initial technical hurdles cleared, they are more comfortable recommending and completing virtual visits.
“Overall, it’s been a positive experience for our patients and providers,” Maraqa said. “Providers and case managers are able to identify clients who benefit from this technology and ensure they can securely access it.”
Maraqa’s team values the flexibility telemedicine provides patients who are medically stable and do not require significant additional services. Dee Williams, a UF CARES patient, started virtual appointments in early 2019.
“I enjoy the privacy and I recommend it to anybody to try,” Williams said.
Williams said other than being unable to take vitals, her provider personalizes the appointment just like an in-office visit. She can connect securely with her phone and continue on with her day.
“There is a lot to be gained by providing this type of appointment option,” Grewal said. “It is another tool to better serve our patients, especially to ensure those living with HIV can access the care they need to maintain a healthy and full life.”
UF Health Virtual Visit has been successful for Grewal’s patients in chronic care management. Most three-month, follow-up office appointments can be replaced with virtual visits. Those using this service have become more compliant with their treatment plans because of the increased monitoring telemedicine provides. For both client groups, telemedicine eliminates the travel and time barriers of coming into the office.
“I see telemedicine as a tool to improve access to care, especially for patients who would normally travel far distances,” Maraqa said. “As it becomes more streamlined to provide the multidisciplinary care that people living with HIV require, I can see how it will improve our ability to reach patients and keep them connected to care.”