A Lancaster County medical practice is bellying up to the browser bar.
- US Digestive Health at Lancaster is rolling out a telemedicine service that could become a template for sister practices in its gastroenterology network, known as US Digestive Health.
- The service builds on the network’s experience with telemedicine during the pandemic and its growing acceptance among both patients and providers, according to Dr. Dale Whitebloom, chief medical officer for US Digestive and a doctor in the Lancaster practice, formerly known as Regional GI. It is based in East Hempfield Township, Lancaster County.
- “What we realized is that we could do a pretty good job of taking care of our patients over an extended period of time without seeing them, and that, to me, was my a-ha moment,” Whitebloom said in an interview with biznewsPA. “I thought, ‘Yeah, we can do this.’”
Why now: A combination of factors, said Whitebloom and Jerry Tillinger, CEO of US Digestive, which is based in Exton.
- Besides growing acceptance among patients and providers, insurers also are looking more favorably on telemedicine, making reimbursement less of an issue, they said.
- Staffing challenges – which have been widespread in health care – are another driver, they said.
- Providers can deliver telemedicine from anywhere and their hours can vary, making it a potentially attractive option for doctors and other practitioners seeking better work-life balance.
- In fact, US Digestive tested telemedicine for six months with a gastroenterologist who had young children and an interest in the service, Whitebloom said. She offered virtual appointments during evenings and weekends.
- “Her schedule was completely full, her patient satisfaction scores were off the charts and she improved our access because we had a huge backlog,” Whitebloom said.
- US Digestive has been hiring other practitioners to staff its telemedicine service but also contracts with a specialty telemedicine provider called Telebelly Health.
Which patients are a fit: Those who are OK with virtual visits and who don’t need to see a gastroenterologist for their initial consultation, said Tillinger.
- A doctor can ask questions about diet, digestion and other factors before deciding whether further, in-person tests are needed, said Tillinger, noting that one doctor in the US Digestive network estimated up to 80% of initial visits could take place via telemedicine.
- “It was three times what I thought it would be,” he said.
- With telemedicine, however, the initial consult can take place sooner, Tillinger said,
- Patients may wait 30 to 60 days for an office visit, due to staffing challenges and demand for care that was put off during the pandemic.
What’s next: Expansion.
- Tillinger expects a telemedicine option will be added by other practices in the US Digestive network, which spans Central, southeastern and southwestern Pennsylvania and Delaware.
- Depending on how it goes, the telemedicine practice eventually could become a standalone, statewide entity, Tillinger said.
The background: US Digestive Health was formed in 2019 by three gastroenterology practices: Regional GI in Lancaster County; Digestive Disease Associates in Berks County; and Main Line Gastroenterology Associates in the Philadelphia area.
- Backed by Greenwich, Connecticut-based private equity firm Amulet Capital Partners, the network has grown to include other practices, including Carlisle Digestive Disease Associates.
- It now counts more than 200 GI physicians in 29 offices, 17 ambulatory surgery centers and four clinical research sites.