By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The last year forced many of us to stay home and put us in front of screens like never before.

But when it comes to telemedicine, that might not be such a bad thing.

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WCCO found the successes and the future of the practice for some patients in outstate Minnesota.

A former firefighter and medic, it was a bad fall after retirement that put Bart Cedergren in a wheelchair.

He lives up north with his wife. The three doctor visits a month could take much of the day, but are now done in a fraction of the time because they’re all online.

“Telemedicine I think is the wave of the future,” Cedergren said. “The only thing we go in for these days are basically lab.”

Family Nurse Practitioner Janelle Terhaar now dedicates one full office day a week in Long Prairie to her telehealth patients.

“We went from maybe having one or two a month to now we’re maybe having steady patients every day,” Terhaar said.

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From parents with a sick child, behavioral health, and an older population, Terhaar says patient profiles come from all over and that even web cams don’t lie.

“You can tell a lot by someone just being able to look at them and them being able to talk to you. If they’re short of breath, if they’re sitting upright. You can see their skin color. You can see the color of their eyes,” she said.

She’s also found clinic visits can cause anxiety so she’s noticed even things like blood pressure readings and stress tests can be more accurate at home.

“As much as possible my theory is I would like to use as many skills over pills as possible,” Terharr said.

She believes it took the unplanned to force society in this digital direction. While she doesn’t see in-clinic contact going away she does believe telemedicine works too well to unplug now.

“We’re in the days of Star Trek if you will. Everything is done remote,” Bart Cedergren said.

At the height of COVID-19, CentraCare was doing 30% of visits via telehealth.

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Pre-COVID-19, its behavioral health department was rarely doing telehealth. Now, a spokesperson says that department is doing 80 to 90% of their visits online.

Liz Collin