Seniors facing health decisions

Dr. Brandon Sammons of Summit Medical Group in Tellico Village looks at a heart model in his office.

The coronavirus pandemic has created a plethora of health concerns for older patients in Loudon County.

Dr. Brandon Sammons of Summit Medical Group in Tellico Village primarily sees older patients on a weekly basis and is taking every precaution.

He has noticed growing concern among patients.

“My practice is predominantly the older generation who are seniors, so from that aspect, I don’t have as much to compare and contrast with the younger generation, but from just what I’m seeing in general, lots of concern and people are appropriately being cautious,” he said. “We have some folks who may be more on the side of being a little more anxious, but we have some who are just kind of taking it in stride and have not let it really affect them in a way that’s adverse to their health, so I’ve got a pretty wide variation there of individuals who are more anxious and having some more difficulties with that aspect of it.”

Rebekah Tripp, audiologist with Choice Audiology, has seen a decline of in-person patient visits. She is concerned for older patients experiencing hearing problems.

Untreated hearing loss is the No. 1 contributor of depression in the elderly population, she said.

“When you’re sitting at home and it’s two elderly people and one of them is probably having trouble hearing the other one, you know, then it does become kind of essential for the conversation partner at least,” Tripp said. “Because we’re having to keep our distance from them and not able to be around them like we could, that’s also affecting their whole livelihoods and all of that, so it can be really hard on the conversation partner, the kids, the person with the hearing problems.”

Many medical offices across the county have limited in-person visits and are taking advantage of technological advancements such as telehealth.

A telehealth video visit allows patients to meet with a provider from the comfort of their home. A visit can be made from a computer, tablet or smart phone that has a camera, microphone and speaker.

Physicians Care in Lenoir City is offering that service.

“We’re excited to offer this on-demand solution to our patients,” Tom Dent, Urgent Team chairman, said in a press release. “Physicians Care is steadfast in our goal of delivering quality care to our patients and this new technology allows us to provide this care from wherever they need us.”

Sammons said homeowners in Tellico Village and other parts of the county have responded well to online visits.

“We’ve got kind of a mixture right now, so we’ve got folks who are coming into the office and we’ve got folks who prefer to do the telehealth visit, and to be honest, the telehealth visits have, surprisingly, been pleasant,” he said. “They can stay at home and see the doctor at home, and we can see them from our computer screen. For the great majority of folks, it’s been a smooth transition here in doing it that way.”

Tripp has started “curbside appointments” as well as utilizing telehealth visits.

Many of her patients can also use their smart phones to program their hearing aids.

“As far as my office goes, I’ve really been limiting the people that come in because I primarily do work with the elderly population, and I do curbside appointments for any kind of minor repairs and things that come up like that,” she said. “A lot of hearing aids do have the ability to be programmed remotely, so if someone’s having a major problem with their hearing aids and can’t wait, we can set up an appointment to remotely program their hearing aids from the comfort of their home without them having to get out.”

There are, however, some downsides to predominantly using telehealth and other virtual resources.

“There are a few limitations. We can’t lay hands on people, we can’t do a physical exam in that way, so that limits us a little bit on that, but we can’t do labs or EKGs or anything like that,” Sammons said. “Some of the folks I’ve seen on the telehealth visits, I’ve requested that they come in the next day or later on that day to take another look at something I might be concerned about. For the most part, it’s working really well and smooth. If folks just want to have just a discussion about their medicines or we can discuss labs they’ve had done previously or things like that, it’s worked out pretty nicely.”

Once the state begins to gradually reopen, Sammons encourages older patients to still be cautious and weigh the options before getting out in full force.

“For some folks, it’s a risk-benefit and it’s important, all of these other health concerns, we don’t ignore them, that we get them in and take a look at them and appropriately treat their other chronic health issues because we can’t afford to ignore those things,” he said. “Some office may be a little more affected than we are here. We have yet to see any positive cases in our population. ... For some folks, they’ve requested that we come and pull them directly from their car when we’ve got a room ready for them, and that’s one way some folks are dealing with decreasing their exposure, and I think that’s a reasonable thing to do, too.”