Why We Need Telehealth Services During a Pandemic

I have been home for the past eleven weeks. Chicago has been practicing shelter-in-place and social distancing because of COVID-19, and NHC Chicago has followed suit with transitioning to teleservice. This meant that my direct patient-facing sessions at two school-based health centers could no longer continue. These sessions allow students who are patients at Heartland Health Centers’ school-based health centers to receive more engagement and resources to work towards establishing healthier lifestyle behaviors through goal-setting and motivational interviewing.

With trepidation, I--along with many others--have been waiting for news of how to return to their traditional routines and lifestyles since the official shutdowns of public places such as schools, workplaces, restaurants, shops, and even green spaces. It has been over two months of serving from home and we have come to realize that this is not a temporary change and the world may not be able to return back to familiarity any time soon. Through flexibility and determination, Heartland Health Centers staff and I planned out a workflow in order to keep serving the health needs of our communities. Although the Chicago community practiced shelter-in-place orders, we were able to adapt and offer telehealth services to our patients in order to mitigate barriers to access such as transportation, time, and exposure to COVID-19 while being in a clinic setting.

Reaching out to students, educating them on digital literacy, connecting them to resources--these were initiatives that allowed students to both get in touch with public health resources and feel cared for during a time of abrupt change. With direct service from my position as a health educator through NHC, I was able to continue nutrition counseling sessions where students practiced and learned skills such as time management in order to manage stress and sleep hygiene. With health coaching through motivational interviewing and nutrition training, I am able to understand factors that affect students’ motivation to change their habits on drinking water, incorporating more movement in their body, and nourishing their bodies with food they enjoy as well as protect their bodies in the long run.

Clinically, these students have lost weight that moves them closer to normal weight from overweight or obese on BMI charts, and their blood pressure numbers have decreased to safer levels. However, these students have gained much more than just lower numbers on a medical chart. Students have expressed noticing a positive change in their bodies throughout these nutrition sessions such as an increase of energy, focusing better in classes, being more productive, and feeling more confident and proud. Knowing that even amidst a pandemic when life is uncertain, one thing is certain: the connection and support between trusted adults and students is more crucial than ever to help each other thrive, because we need each other. The students I have served alongside may be feeling confident and proud of their hard work and discipline, but I couldn’t be more confident and proud of them for being resilient and committed to be their best versions of themselves no matter the circumstance.

This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2019-20 member Alison Wong.

Alison is a Health Educator at Heartland Health Center - Kilmer/Sullivan.