PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A convergence of factors — that’s what the head of the medical practice at Eastern Virginia Medical School is citing for logistical problems with the telehealth portion of its pain management program.
After 10 On Your Side’s initial report last week, several other viewers came forward with similar stories about appointments where providers didn’t show, then being charged themselves with no-show fees, and problems with prescription refills.
“The situation that led to this, I call it the perfect storm,” said Dr. Kurt Stauder, CEO of the EVMS Medical Group.
It turns out Janice Charity of Chesapeake, who we interviewed last week, wasn’t the only patient caught up in the turbulence.
“We sat for three hours and waited,” said Marica Rull of Portsmouth. “We took a screenshot with our phone, and the time, and it said ‘waiting in virtual waiting room,’ and no one showed up.”
Others said they had canceled their appointment without any notice, and therefore weren’t allowed to have any medication. They waited on the computer for three hours before the session timed out, they said.
Rull has arthritis and chronic pain from surgeries. She’s been without her pain medicine for more than two weeks. And, like Charity, Rull says she was charged with a no-show fee of $50.
“If we can validate (the patient was present for the telehealth visit), and we have the system to do that, we do not charge them the no-show,” Stauder said.
Former patient Laura Crews of Hayes didn’t have video capability, so she arranged an in-person visit and showed up but says she was turned away.
“We received a bill for a no-show,” she said.
No-shows are critical in pain management because they will lead to a patient being discharged from the practice. According to EVMS, no-shows were an even bigger problem before the pandemic, averaging about 50 percent of appointments. The practice rate is now closer to 12 percent.
Stauder says several factors have combined to create stress on the system.
He cites the coronavirus pandemic coming on top of the existing opioid crisis, new federal rules that pain patients be seen every 30 days instead of every 90, and the closing of other local pain management programs.
In addition, few other programs accept Medicaid, and Stauder says EVMS has recently lost five pain management providers, going from 12 down to seven. Stauder says some of his providers are now seeing triple the number of patients compared with before telehealth became necessary, and hours were extended to 7 p.m.
“We had a huge influx of patients and we lost capacity and access,” Stauder said.
For now, EVMS won’t be adding any new pain patients, “until we can get this stabilized and get back to the level of service that is expected and we are committed to provide,” Stauder said.
For Rull, that can’t happen soon enough.
“It’s been pure hell. I have no normal life. I can’t get in the garden, I can’t do much of anything,” Rull said.
Stauder says recently EVMS has begun to see more patients in-person for procedures and injections. EVMS says it is recruiting more providers and installing a new phone system in the coming months for better patient access. Stauder recommends that patients use the portal on the Follow My Health app as the best way to register complaints because he monitors those messages.
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