COVID-19 Resource Center

COVID-19 Resource Center

April 28, 2020
4 min read

GI societies help health care providers transition to telehealth

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jacqueline gaulin photo
Jacqueline Gaulin

COVID-19 has accelerated the need for GI practices to use telehealth as a vital way of delivering patient care, and offerings from the both The American Gastroenterological Association and the American College of Gastroenterology are assisting GI practices with their transition to telehealth especially during this pandemic.

AGA has recently partnered with Rx Health to create the Virtual Care Hub and Telehealth, which is delivered via RX Health’s digital platform, according to a press release. The platform includes digital screening and triage of patients before in-person appointments, virtual visits through a telehealth room for each provider, and digital prescription of GI education modules from the AGA patient education center.

“RX health and AGA had an existing partnership and we got confirmation to guide pre and post procedure care, degrees, no shows and improve bowel care as a quality improvement.,” Ashish Atreja, MD, MPH, chief innovation officer in medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, told Healio Gastroenterology and Liver Disease. “And this is a bit of COVID response. There was an urgent need to enable virtual care and Telehealth technology in practices. So, it just became a natural extension of that partnership.”

GI OnDEMAND, a joint venture between ACG and Gastro Girl Inc., was introduced to the market in October 2019 as gastroenterology’s virtual care and support platform. ACG and Gastro Girl have partnered since 2016 on a number of patient-education initiatives and expanded this partnership with GI OnDEMAND to offer HIPAA-compliant and cloud-based telehealth capabilities that give providers a way to get reimbursed for out-of-office patient support and provides patients with an easy way to manage their chronic digestive health conditions through virtual office visits with their GIs, registered dietitians and psychologists, according to a release from the ACG.

“Teleheath is just one feature of GI OnDEMAND,” Jacqueline Gaulin, founder and chief strategy officer of Gastro Girl Inc., told Healio Gastroenterology and Liver Disease. “GI OnDEMAND’s patient-centric virtual care platform also features an online support community and evidence-based health information so patients have access to the help they need when and how they need it-whether they want to have a virtual visit, with their gastroenterologist, ask a GI nutrition expert a general question about the low FODMAP diet in the community or better understand colorectal cancer screening guidelines from a trusted source.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for such telehealth capabilities.

Rapid increase in telehealth


“We’ve heard from several experts in the telehealth industry that for the first 10 to 14 days of COVID-19, there was a 4,000% surge in usage across the country, including GI OnDEMAND,” said Gaulin. “The equivalent, literally of 6 years of growth in less than 2 weeks. It was just unbelievable. But telehealth is not new. COVID-19 has prioritized the need to identify innovative ways—and quickly implement and leverage existing technologies to provide patients with the support they need outside of the traditional office setting,” Gaulin said.

Atreja said with COVID-19, AGA and RX Health had to rapidly include COVID-19-related work into their platform. Atreja said at first some practices noted issues with video chats with patients but with RX Health’s platform made it easy to connect patients and providers.

“It's telehealth plus virtual health, which means it's not just a video,” Atreja said. “Most of the practices are struggling with how to get the patient into video with it, how to activate them, how to onboard them, because otherwise, it’s a no show and it's all empty. This provides the entire framework and workflow to get the patients converted into using video, onboard them into video with a platform and then follow up after video visit so it's much more workflow driven. The next step is to get into virtual clinical trials.”

Telehealth here to stay

“During this pandemic, GI clinicians as well as other healthcare providers have had to rely on video visits and the telephone to not only triage patients before they go to a hospital or clinic, but ‘to see’ new patients and maintain continuity of care for their existing patients, “ Gaulin said. “Given the loosening of many telehealth policy restrictions, this rapid adoption is also giving most a crash course in creativity and the power of a video visit. For example, some providers have shared that they’ve handled a “physical exam” by guiding the patient through a virtual self-exam. In one case, either the patient or someone in their household presses on the patient’s belly to check for any pain or discomfort as the doctor observes.”

“COVID-19 has changed the practice of medicine forever by accelerating the adoption of virtual care—and it's not going backwards,” Gaulin said. “However, while the hope is that many of the waivers around payment parity, reimbursement and state licensing will be here to stay, loosening of certain Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance rules most likely are temporary. They’re probably not going to allow the use of non-HIPAA compliant platforms like Skype or Facetime forever.”


Gaulin added that, “Now that GI clinicians are experiencing first-hand the benefits and potential of using virtual care in their practices, they're going to want more and more capabilities via their “virtual GI office”. We're seeing that now with practices who may have started out on GI OnDEMAND because of COVID-19, are now asking us to turn on the more advanced features of the platform for their practice, such as the ability to offer on-demand or self-scheduled appointments to their patients.

Patients of all ages, including seniors, have also been quick to embrace the ease and convenience of a virtual visit, Gaulin noted. “Like anything new, there is a little bit of a learning curve, but once they experience their first virtual visits, most patients said they would definitely do more of them—so it’s safe to say that GI practices are seeing virtual care and support as a key delivery channel for patient care both now and post-COVID-19.”- by Monica Jaramillo


Disclosures: Atreja and Gaulin report no relevant financial disclosures.