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On March 27, 2020, life in Minnesota changed drastically to slow the spread of COVID-19. With the announcement of a shelter in place mandate, the normally bustling Northland paused as Minnesotans everywhere stayed home. However, health issues can’t be mandated that easily.

“At first, this was really terrifying for folks,” said Dr. Sandy Popham, nephrologist at St. Luke’s Nephrology Associates. “Our biggest concern was that people would get behind in their health care. If someone waits too long to deal with an issue, they may not have as good of an outcome.” This is especially true for someone with a chronic health condition like Dr. Popham’s patient Mary Mettner.

For the past year and a half, Mary has been seeing Dr. Popham once a month for an in-person evaluation. While some clinic visits were available after the shelter in place order was announced, Mary decided she wouldn’t be going anywhere. “I wanted to stay away from doctors’ offices and hospitals as much as possible,” she said. “I have so many health issues that if I were to get the coronavirus, I’m afraid it wouldn’t be good.” That’s when she heard about the option for a telehealth video visit.

New options for visits
To help keep our community safe, St. Luke’s now offers new ways for patients to get the care they need without having to come into a clinic building. This includes telehealth video visits, curbside telehealth video visits and curbside lab draws. Telehealth video visits in particular have been a crucial part of continuing care during the pandemic. “While I love seeing my patients in person,” said Dr. Popham, “this is a great option.”

Requiring only a device with a camera (such as an iPad or smart phone) and an internet connection, telehealth video visits allow patients to see their healthcare provider through video chat. This means issues can be addressed without the patient ever having to leave home. This service works especially well for needs like preventative care, minor health concerns and illnesses, chronic care management and urgent care concerns.

While the setup is simple, the technology can pose a challenge for some. “I’m 71 and I’m not computer savvy at all,” said Mary, “so I was a little intimidated at first. I didn’t know if I’d be able to set it all up correctly.” For patients who are new to telehealth, St. Luke’s staff members help make the process as easy as possible.

Overcoming obstacles to care
“When someone calls to schedule, we walk them through how everything works, step-by-step,” explained Dr. Addie Vittorio, family practice doctor at St. Luke’s Mount Royal Medical Clinic. “Then, we send them an email with all that information again, just in case they need to reference it.” On the day of the appointment, the clinic will call to start the check-in process. After a medical assistant runs through a few questions, the patient is a sent a link via text or email to start the video portion of their visit with their provider.

If someone doesn’t have the necessary equipment do to a video visit from home, St. Luke’s can loan them the required technology. “All they have to do is drive to the clinic when it’s time for their appointment and a medical assistant will bring them an iPad they can use,” said Dr. Vittorio. “Then, we do the video visit while they stay in their car.” If blood work or an immunization is needed, this can be done as the patient remains in their vehicle as well.

After some encouragement and a little help, Mary was able to connect with Dr. Popham and get the care she needed. “I had to chuckle because it did feel a little odd at first,” she said, “but then it was pretty normal. I really enjoy Dr. Popham and feel comfortable with her. I can ask her anything and telehealth didn’t change that at all.”

Keeping you safe at St. Luke’s
Everyone who wants to be seen in person can rest assured that St. Luke’s is diligently following infection control measures set by the Centers for Disease Control to keep everyone safe. This includes registering patients in their vehicle when possible, having everyone wear masks, practicing good social distancing, being relentless about good hand hygiene, and thoroughly disinfecting patient rooms, door handles, clip boards and pens after every visit.

“Don’t delay in addressing your health issues,” said Dr. Popham. “St. Luke’s is a very safe place to be.”

If you have any questions or want schedule an appointment, call your clinic or 218.249.4000. To learn more about telehealth, visit

This article was published in the 2020 July issue of the Woman Today.