Reviewed by: Karl Koenig, MD, Medical Director of the Musculoskeletal Institute
Written by: Lauryn Feil
As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare practices have shifted. Care that traditionally takes place in an office setting is now occurring digitally for the safety of both patients and providers. But here at UT Health Austin, this shift was occurring long before the pandemic. Care teams like the Musculoskeletal Institute have been leading this initiative by integrating telehealth into their multidisciplinary care models to better engage with patients throughout their treatment. As a result, UT Health Austin practices have been able to quickly respond to new demands as we navigate a world where limited in-person interactions could save lives.
Since its launch in October 2017, the Musculoskeletal Institute has proudly delivered a unique integrated practice model where patients are able to see multiple specialists in one visit. A patient experiencing osteoarthritis, for example, may benefit from a consultation with a rehabilitation specialist, an orthopedic surgeon, a physical therapist, a dietitian, and more to help develop a well-rounded treatment plan that meets their specific goals. The model has proven to generate overwhelmingly positive patient outcomes and decrease the overall need for invasive interventions, such as surgery. At the start of 2020, the Musculoskeletal Institute was recognized with a Silver Award in the Musculoskeletal Management Category by the Validation Institute’s Health Value Awards for demonstrating measurably better and more transparent health outcomes than conventional care.
Because this care model is rooted in the DNA of UT Health Austin, the clinical practices have been working to maintain the value delivered in a multidisciplinary care setting, only now through a new telehealth model. Orthopedic surgeon and Medical Director of the Musculoskeletal Institute, Karl Koenig, MD, says, “Not being able to bring patients into our traditional care environment because of COVID-19 presented a real challenge, but our team immediately stepped up and found innovative ways to deliver the same experience virtually, with the goal of continuing to deliver what our patients need in a valuable, yet safe way.”
Telehealth appointments are offered using the secure video conferencing platform Zoom, with additional custom design work to include a virtual waiting room for patients after they check in and a “care room” they are moved to once their appointment begins. Prior to each appointment the Musculoskeletal Institute care team meets as a group to discuss each patient’s case and possible treatment plans. For patients benefiting from seeing multiple providers, their care is seamlessly handed off throughout their appointment in a coordinated and efficient manner.
The same services that are offered in-person are now also offered virtually, including physical therapy, surgical consults, medication management, nutritional advice, back and neck pain evaluations, and mental and behavioral health guidance. While a majority of appointments have shifted to telehealth to help minimize the spread of COVID-19, in-person appointments are still being offered when necessary with precautionary measures in place to ensure the safety of patients and providers. (To learn more about precautionary measures UT Health Austin is taking to keep patients and providers healthy, visit here.)
“We do see that for some of our patients, this is actually a more convenient way to deliver care,” explains Dr. Koenig. “While our patients’ experience with technology can vary, and at times may be limited, if you consider the time and potential cost of driving to the clinic, parking, checking in, waiting to see your provider, and all of the logistical barriers that come with a traditional in-person healthcare visit, this model is convenient and more efficient for the majority of our patients.”
For patients scheduling or seeking surgery, the operating rooms are also back open with robust safety measures in place. “We have been working overtime in the operating room to make sure patients who had to cancel or reschedule due to the COVID-19 shutdown are taken care of in a timely manner and to ensure that new patients will not experience a delay in scheduling,” says Dr. Koenig.
Receiving care via telehealth may seem strange or daunting in many ways, but Dr. Koenig and his team reassure patients that the Musculoskeletal Institute is one of the few organizations that has the flexibility and readiness to adapt to whatever your care needs may be. “We have expedited this transformation and are now seeing teams across UT Health Austin revolutionize how virtual health can best meet patient needs during this time. But first and foremost, the patient and their health needs are paramount. Our team does whatever is necessary to make sure our patients get the right care,” says Dr. Koenig.
To learn more about services offered at the Musculoskeletal Institute, visit here. For information about how telehealth is conducted at UT Health Austin, visit here or call 1-833-UT-CARES to make an appointment.