The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a physical disconnect many of us have never experienced.
Health care providers have especially felt the pandemic's complexity, having to practice social distancing while still caring for their patients.
As restrictions have tightened, the use of telemedicine has become integral for providers caring for patients who live in long-term care facilities.
"It's vital that the residents and doctors still keep in touch. Conditions can change so rapidly. The connection with the doctor, keeping the doctor informed and actually seeing the residents still is so vital," said Annie Kloos, director of nursing services at the Good Samaritan Society — Deuel County (South Dakota).
"That way we can help detour any future problems to make medication changes. Also, just to see the overall appearance of the resident," she added.
Kloos said these telemedicine visits are done through iPads, something every Good Samaritan Society facility has. Her facility currently has three.
Lana Baerenwald, a Sanford Health nursing ambulatory supervisor in Luverne and Adrian, Minnesota, oversees many long-term care residents who have had health problems for years and takes great pride in looking after them.
Telemedicine and e-visits have allowed her to keep residents as healthy and safe as possible, Baerenwald said.
"It's done really great things for us. These residents don't have to come out. Not only that, but our physicians don't have to go into the building. We've been exposed to a lot of different things. Of course, we've got a robust screening process for staff, but this has allowed us to minimize bringing that risk into the nursing home."
Along with physical health, both Sanford Health and the Good Samaritan Society look after the mental health of their long-term care residents.
In caring for residents' mental health, the pandemic has proven challenging. Because of visitor restrictions, some residents have been dealing with the loneliness associated with social distancing.
This is another instance where technology has come into play.
"As far as family visits, we've been able to use the iPads so that we can do FaceTime or Skype with our residents and their family members," Kloos said. "It's really taken off. It was slow in the beginning, but it's really taken off very well. Both the residents and family members enjoy seeing one another. It really puts a smile on the residents' faces."
Those televisits are important, she said.
"Having a family connection is vital for the residents in their mind frame. To be cut off form their family members like this, especially residents with family members that live in the same community, it's tough. Not be able to be near them, or hug them, and just talk to them face to face, it's been a real hardship," Kloos said.
"At least seeing them on iPads has been comforting to them, to let them know that they're not alone."
'They're like family'
Televisits allow residents to not only see their family, but also others they've become close with over the years.
"Just being able to see their doctor, and visit with the front-line staff, it's a social visit, too, and it is social well-being for them. That's part of overall health care," Baerenwald said. "We're not only looking at how they're doing physically, but how are these people doing socially? Do they get enough interaction during these virtual visits?"
"So through the virtual interaction, we can still really tell how a person is doing. If they're having trouble with depression because they can't see their family member. We care for them, because they're like family to us, too."