Video conference platform Zoom has become a staple in many offices, thanks to pandemic, work from home
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Many tutorials on how to use the video conference platform Zoom are available on YouTube.
Mere months ago, many people had never heard or used Zoom or any other such plat- forms. How have area organizations adapted to meeting virtually?
Chena L. Tucker, executive director of the Office of Business and Community Relations at the Workforce Development Board of Oswego County, said that her office had used Zoom and other platforms, like Google Meet, Google Hangouts and Webex. But not all employees were fully versed in their use when the pandemic ended in-person meetings.
“There is always a learning curve when you are introducing new technologies, but with time and experience comes comfort,” Tucker said. “Overall, it has worked very well. We did find the need to upgrade our Zoom service package so that we could hold meetings beyond the 40 minutes allowed on the free version.”
She said that her department uses Zoom for quarterly meetings, weekly briefings, scheduled open office and even social hours just to check in with one another. It’s a trend that to some extent may continue even after social distancing becomes a memory.
“It’s practical and saves time and money,” Tucker said. “Also, it’s more convenient as we have board and committee members that travel from Syracuse and beyond, and using Zoom saves them travel time.”
For Dan Smith, librarian at the Onondaga County Public Library genealogy department, it was a bit of an adjustment to host rather than just attend a virtual meeting.
“As participants we’ve done it, but hosting we haven’t done as much,” Smith said. “It’s a good avenue that’s come along lately. There’s definitely a technical learning curve to it.”
The library staff worked at home during the quarantine while the library was closed.
“Can you hear me?” “I can’t see you.” “Am I on mute? Where’s the un- mute?” All of these issues and more are part of the painful process of learning how to use virtual meeting platforms.
There’s also the matter of minimizing ambient sounds, especially for meetings held at hosts’ and participants’ homes. Barking dogs, children’s questions, ringing phones — all of these and more can intrude on a Zoom session.
Joyce Farah, dermatologist at Farah Dermatology, said her offices, which are located in Watertown, Syracuse, Fulton, Camillus and Rome, use the medical platform Doxy.me; TeleDerm, a platform specific to dermatology; or, if a patient experiences connectivity issues, FaceTime. Under normal circumstances, HIPAA law would prohibit using platforms that aren’t strictly regulated and approved for medical purposes; however, Farah said “the rules had been relaxed,” which makes it easier for providers to connect with patients.
Since Farah Dermatology providers were familiar with the platforms, they didn’t have a learning curve. Their struggles originated more from poor video quality.
“We had to use uploaded still images,” Farah said. “It depends on the patients’ hardware and internet. There are many factors. When you have good equipment and fast, reliable internet on both ends, it’s fine.”
She believes that using virtual meeting platforms will continue for some cases, where an in-person isn’t warranted. Meeting remotely reduces traffic in the office. It can also assist patients who face other barriers to care, such as lack of childcare, busy work schedules and distance.
“I have to say that patients have been very good about adapting to the changes we’ve had to make,” Farah said. “They’re very receptive. I think in this area, we have all worked together to keep things going. That’s a testament to the community we live in.”
Dany Bryan, a dermatologist at Dermatology Consultants in East Syracuse, represents another professional who embraced remote meetings.
“For me, it was easier as I’m a millennial,” he said.
Before the pandemic, the office did not offer telehealth.
Overall, he thinks that the office adapted “fairly quickly” to virtual meetings. During the height of the pandemic, the office primarily used FaceTime and Doxy.me, a telemedicine-specific platform.
“Patients accepted it very well,” Bryan said. “Many appreciated just being seen under those circumstances.”
By June, in-person visits were available, which Bryan, like many providers in dermatology prefer. But virtual meetings will still be available for those who aren’t capable of coming into the office.
“The evaluation is always better in person,” Bryan said. “In dermatology, so much of our exam is looking at the skin and getting a clear picture. We may use a magnifier to look at lesions. We try to do in-person as much as possible, but we’ll do telehealth if they can’t come in.”
Although some patients may be equipped and capable to offer clear visuals during a telehealth visit, others may not know how to use their equipment or understand the importance of providing a good look at what’s going on.
Jack Houck, Ph.D., with Psychological Health Care in Syracuse and in private practice, believes that adding telehealth to the practice was “pretty easy.”
Like Bryan, his office uses Doxy.me and, if clients prefer, phone calls.
“It was two hours on the phone the very first time to set it up with the company we contracted with to be sure we’re HIPAA compliant,” Houck said. “We have to be very careful about that.”
He added that sometimes, providers in the practice use Zoom to communicate.
So far, virtual sessions don’t seem to bother clients.
“I always ask people if they prefer a phone call or video,” Houck said. “The majority say ‘Phone is good.’’”
The lack of visual input does detract a bit from sessions.
“The advantage to video is that you get a whole different set of stimuli by being able to see the patient’s face, whether they’re looking down, smiling or distracted,” Houck said. “Training as a psychologist, we’re urged to watch, look, but I think what’s even more important than what I see in the client is what they say, how they say it, how they organize the conversation, whether or not they want to give me information or sit in the session and talk, or whether they want me to also be part of the conversation.”
But Houck puts much merit in the rapport and emotional connection between therapist and client than anything else. About half his virtual meetings are on the phone and half are through Doxy.me.
He likes the fact that telehealth can help him treat clients who otherwise might not be able to access mental health services, such as people who feel inhibited about seeking help or those whose schedules don’t offer suitable opportunities.
He doesn’t think that virtual meetings will continue long-term for mental health unless insurance companies will continue to pay reimbursements for sessions. Paying out-of-pocket isn’t possible for many patients.
Using videoconference platform is a trend that to some extent may continue even after social distancing becomes a memory.