July 21, 2020

Pandemic pushes our virtual, connected care to new heights

Cynthia Engel is thankful for her first telehealth experience. During Kaiser Permanente’s 75th year, we reflect on this important area of health care.

It was the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Cynthia Engel had hurt her knee.

She knew she needed an X-ray, but she was concerned about going into a medical facility due to her age. If she were to get COVID-19, she would be at greater risk of serious illness since she was over 65.

And yet, she called to make the appointment she knew she needed.

This is when a series of convenient and helpful phone and video appointments started for a 38-year member who had never had a phone or video visit before.

woman with white hair streaked with bright red wearing red glasses and smiling at the camera

Cynthia Engel had her first phone and video appointments this spring, allowing her to avoid visiting a facility in person while still getting quality care. 

Virtual firsts

Engel is surely not alone in having a first virtual appointment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the pandemic, fewer than 1 in 5 of our members’ care visits was conducted by phone or video, on average.  In April 2020, when nearly the entire country was under some kind of stay-at-home order, 4 out of every 5 appointments were done virtually.

Our systems and care teams were ready to meet the increased demand for virtual care. For decades, we’ve actively invested and innovated, not only in technology, but also in the telehealth experience. Research shows that 89% of members who complete a phone or video visit are interested in another.

Connected care, no matter when or where

Kaiser Permanente’s virtual visits are fully integrated into care delivery, which is not always the case with other health care providers. 

This means that during phone and video appointments, members talk with a Kaiser Permanente clinician who has immediate and secure access to their medical record. These clinicians can see a complete picture of the member’s health history, prescribe medications, order lab tests and imaging, and make referrals for additional care as needed.

That connected care experience is exactly what helped Engel to get some of her care at home instead of needing to come in for each step of her care journey.

A care team that follows you

The first step in taking care of Engel’s knee was a video visit that allowed a doctor to remotely assess her injury. Then, she visited the Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Offices for an X-ray.

When her X-ray results were ready, she didn’t have to go in for an appointment; instead, an orthopedic doctor explained the findings during a phone appointment.

“[The phone appointment] went really well, and it meant a lot to me because I’m at that age — that vulnerable age — and I felt safer not going in,” said Engel, who happens to be a retired Kaiser Permanente nurse.

The treatment she needed to resolve the injury did require her to go into a care facility. She was apprehensive, but her concern quickly dissolved once she entered the Kaiser Permanente Downey Medical Center.

“I was really pleased with how well-organized it was. When you came in, you got your temperature taken, and they asked you questions about whether you felt sick or not,” Engel said. “The seats were all taped off so there was nobody sitting by you, and there were no visitors allowed unless the patient had a caretaker.”

Moving forward

Phone and video visits will continue to be a great way for members to access the same high-quality, evidence-based care they would get in one of our facilities.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, our telehealth options are not only convenient, they also help protect our members, doctors, nurses, and staff. Having fewer people in our facilities makes social distancing easier for everyone and saves critical personal protective equipment for those who need it most.

Engel is eager to get back to her old way of life, which includes seeing her doctors in person. But until then, she is pleased that her knee is healing and that telehealth is an option. 


A history of leading the way

In 2020, our 75th year, we’re recognizing how our leadership in health and health care along with our focus on innovation — past, present, and future — support our mission of delivering high-quality, affordable health care. Our vision is to help our members and the people in our communities experience more healthy years. Learn more about our history of leading the way.