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As the number of patients increases, St. Ambrose is preparing future health care workers for telehealth services

Telehealth visits continue to increase even as the COVID-19 pandemic seems to come to an end.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — The need for health care professionals continues to grow even as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, and those professionals will have to continue to adapt as more and more appointments move to virtual mediums.

Telehealth appointments at UnityPoint Health last year totaled more than 30,000 across its clinics, which is seven times more than what it reported back in 2018, which was just over 4,200 clinic patients. That's according to a spokesperson from UnityPoint Health-Trinity in Rock Island, Ill.

"If you give the patient two minutes to talk, a lot of times they will tell you what's wrong with them in that first two minutes," said Megan Wasson, a St. Ambrose University physician assistant student set to graduate this year. "You just have to allow that patient to talk."

It's a simple concept. Wasson said she's learned that PAs just have to be willing to listen to their patient's needs. 

But what happens when you can't assess those needs in person? 

"So, our students are focused in the first portion of the program with getting a really good history from the patients and that's going to translate very well into telehealth where they're not able to do a physical exam," said Suzanne Peppers, PA-C and program director for the PA program at St. Ambrose.

The Master of Physician Assistant Studies at St. Ambrose was created just eight years ago, but it's already recognized how important telehealth is when it comes to diagnosing patients. It's all about asking the right questions.

"If they were to go down the path and need to do some telehealth visits, then they would have that background," Peppers explained. 

And so do those folks who sought out telehealth appointments last year. UnityPoint Health clinic patients across Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. 

This shift towards virtual appointments is something that current students are ready to handle. 

"I would say that by teaching us as generalists and competent PAs, the transition to working in telehealth and telemedicine should be pretty simple," said first-year PA student Tom Otskey.

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