A bonus benefit of Taylor Clancy’s first online appointment with her obstetrician in October of 2020 — besides maintaining safe distance, avoiding a drive to office, and being able to wait on her own couch — was finally getting to see her doctor’s smiling face. Clancy, 34, an emergency room nurse in Boston, had entered the third trimester of her pregnancy, and as a first-time parent, she had all the usual worries and concerns. But a pregnancy during a global health crisis heightened those fears.
Although she had seen her obstetrician, Katherine Matta, in person for ultrasounds and physical exams, COVID precautions meant that each appointment was conducted as quickly as possible (not much chit-chat), with as few people as possible (Clancy’s partner, Peter, could only join via FaceTime), and through the protective filters of face masks and shields. Despite the physical distance, online appointments offered a chance for a more personal connection as Clancy’s pregnancy progressed.
“A lot of prenatal care is talking about what to expect, how the mother is feeling, and any concerns they have,” says Matta, part of the Steward Health Care Team with an office at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston. “Video has been great for that, and you can tell patients are happy to be able to talk face to face.”
The dawn of a new era in healthcare
Telemedicine or telehealth — delivering medical care and advice via video, phone, or messaging through a patient portal — isn’t new, but it hadn’t been widely adopted before the pandemic. Matta, for example, had never conducted a video appointment with a patient before the pandemic — only 12% of obstetricians in the US had. But by March 2020, the number of virtual appointments rose by 4,000% in some parts of the US, as patients and their doctors recognized its value in making healthcare possible from a distance. By June 2020, 84% of obstetricians had added telemedicine, offering a mix of in-person and virtual prenatal care for the dozen or so appointments a woman can expect during a typical pregnancy.