Before the pandemic started, Adult Care of Austin on Menchaca Road didn't offer telemedicine appointments.
Now, the private practice conducts almost all of its visits virtually, either over the phone or on HIPAA-compliant video platforms.
Dr. Steven Dobberfuhl, an internal medicine physician, said telemedicine saved his practice—and has been a boon to his patients, around 75% of whom are 65 years or older and at high risk of contracting COVID-19.
"I didn't believe it would work as well as it has," he said.
Dobberfuhl is not alone.
With policy changes enacted at the state and federal level earlier this year, including requirements that insurance companies reimburse doctors for telemedicine appointments, the technology finally made financial sense for many local physicians.
"Sadly, if it's not getting paid for, it's not getting done," Dobberfuhl said.
Telemedicine—which includes live videoconferencing, recorded videos, remote patient monitoring and mobile health, such as texts—offers convenience and limits doctors and patients' exposure to the coronavirus.
But there were kinks to work out.
"Everything was sort of bottlenecked through telemedicine," said Dr. Terry Rascoe, medical director of telemedicine virtual urgent care for Baylor Scott & White Health, which expanded its telemedicine services early on in the pandemic.
Over the last eight months, however, physicians and patients alike have discovered the benefits of telemedicine—and been able to return to in-person visits where they make sense now that the state has allowed elective procedures to resume.
"It was a crisis period (in March and April)," said Dr. Ashis Barad, medical director of virtual specialty care services for BSW Health. "We were replicating in-person care back then out of necessity. Really the hope now is to enhance care."
The telemedicine revolution
For Barad, who is also a pediatric gastroenterologist, this means using telemedicine for follow-up visits and for those families who may live far from his Temple clinic, which serves dozens of counties in Central Texas.
"Patients are going to drive this," he said of telemedicine's continued use. "And I think in general, our patients love telemedicine."
Other physicians echoed this assessment.
Although no longer a necessity, telemedicine continues to save patients time. Instead of spending hours commuting to a doctor's office and possibly losing out on pay, they can instead pop into a video or phone call for 30 minutes.
"The patients are really seeing the benefit of not having to take a half day off of work," Dobberfuhl said.
There are also benefits to the doctors themselves.
Dobberfuhl likes getting a glimpse into his patients' homes—a kind of 2020 house call.
"For better or for worse, I kind of like having a little bit of that insight," he said. (Although there are some occupational hazards that crop up: "I've had patients not put on shirts.")
Overall the change has been a positive one.
"It's a good revolution," Dobberfuhl said. "We all really hope that parts of it stay (beyond the pandemic)."
A tool in the toolbox
But telemedicine is not a panacea.
Many physicians and private practices are still reporting depressed patient volume as a result of the pandemic and haggling with insurance companies over reimbursement rates.
"They're still struggling," said Tom Banning, CEO of the Austin-based Texas Academy of Family Physicians. "There's no question about that."
Although telemedicine is useful in many instances, it doesn't address every problem caused by the pandemic. Banning estimates that patient volume has rebounded to about 85% of pre-pandemic levels, but that still leaves a 15% gap, which he attributed in part to patients losing their jobs—and with them their health insurance.
"I think telemedicine is just going to be one bullet in the gun," he said of the challenges facing doctors today.
Another reason for the drop in patient volume may be the success of COVID prevention measures.
"This time of year we're typically slammed," said Dr. Brian Temple, a co-owner and partner at Beansprout Pediatrics, which has locations in Bee Cave, Dripping Springs and Spicewood.
With kids wearing masks and social distancing, however, the common flu and cold cases are much less common.
Still, telemedicine is a useful tool for Temple's practice, especially for screening patients with COVID symptoms without having to bring them into the office, where they might infect staff.
With cases surging, this is a critical safeguard.
"If we didn't have that, I don't know what we would do," he said.
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After two years of no in-person events, Austin festival South by Southwest has agreed to give 50% of ownership to P-MRC, a Los Angeles company that controls publishing operations for Rolling Stone and Billboard.
The media venture was founded in 2020 and is part-owned by Jay Penske, racer Roger Penske's son and head of Penske Racing and Penske Media.
The move comes after the COVID-19 pandemic left the festival with two years worth of hemorrhaging funds. SXSW organizers were left scrambling for solutions in March 2020 when the city of Austin canceled the festival at the onset of the pandemic. One-third of the festival's 175 year-round employees were laid off, and the festival ran a shortened virtual event in 2021.
SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson said in a statement that the company is grateful to get aid when they need it most and that they are now looking to the future.
"It has been an incredibly tough period for small businesses, SXSW included," Swenson said. "When Jay Penske approached us with an interest in becoming a partner, it was a true lifeline for us. Both of our companies share a passion for producing high-quality content that helps shape modern culture, so this feels like a natural alliance."
Both of Austin's big-name festivals are now in the hands of out-of-town buyers. In 2014, homegrown festival Austin City Limits was bought in part by LiveNation, who took 51% ownership in Austin live promoter C3 Presents.
.@MLS Commissioner @thesoccerdon and @AustinFC's Minister of Culture and part-owner Matthew @McConaughey will discuss how the League is deepening fan engagement, and how Clubs are becoming cultural mainstays at 10am on Channel 3. ⚽ #SXSW pic.twitter.com/2XFj4XEdwL
— SXSW (@sxsw) March 18, 2021
The fest has captured the essence of Austin arts and culture for 34 years, and it doesn't plan on stopping now. With P-MRC by its side, SXSW said it plans on keeping its unique identity but expanding operations as it prepares for an in-person celebration next spring.
"Since 1987, SXSW has been the world's premier festival centered at the convergence of tech, media, film, and music," Penske said. "Today SXSW continues to be one of the most recognized brands for empowering creative talent and bringing together the brightest creators of our time. As part of this significant investment, we plan to build upon SXSW's incredible foundation while extending the platform further digitally and assisting Roland and his incredible team to bring their vision to even greater heights."
With their future restored, SXSW's newest slogan rings truer than ever: "See you next year at SXSW!"
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Update: Former Travis County deputy suspected of killing 3 in northwest Austin now in police custody
Stephen Broderick is now in police custody for a suspected domestic violence incident that killed three in northwest Austin on Sunday.
After initially being called an active shooting incident, joint local law enforcement and more than 75 FBI agents proceeded with an almost day-long manhunt with three helicopters and on-ground teams for former Travis County deputy Broderick. Police captured him after a 911 caller reported a suspicious man walking along U.S. 290, where he was taken into custody.
Police believe the victims, who have been identified as two Hispanic women and one Black man, knew their assailant. A child was involved but is now safely in police custody. Two of the victims have been identified as former and current Elgin ISD students: Alyssa Broderick and Willie Simmons III.
The school district released a statement offering its condolences to the families. Alyssa was enrolled until October 2020 and played on the basketball team. Simmons was a senior at Elgin High School where he was captain of the football team and had been recruited to play football at the University of North Texas.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez released the following statement on the incident: "I'm truly heartbroken that a former Travis County Sheriff's Office Deputy is the suspect in such a horrific incident. TCSO is standing by to provide any, and all assistance we can to the families of the victims in their time of need. I'm proud of the integrity and professionalism shown by the men and women of TCSO, APD and other law enforcement agencies, who worked tirelessly throughout the night to locate Stephen Broderick. I'm especially grateful to the vigilant citizen who called 911 after seeing Broderick, and to the Manor PD officers and TCSO deputies who took him into custody this morning."
APD @Chief_Chacon provides updated media briefing in relation to Great Hills Trail incident. - PIO8 https://t.co/47siNWhARI
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) April 18, 2021
During a press briefing at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, Interim Police Chief Joe Chacon said law enforcement was on the scene for several hours investigating the incident with 41-year-old Broderick.
"We're very sorry that obviously this has happened and we continue to try and locate this individual, we are transitioning from a search in this area to a fugitive search and those efforts will continue until this person is located," Chacon said. "I don't want anyone to think that we're packing up and going home. We're going to continue to look for this individual because he continues to pose a threat to this community."
#texasshooting #masshooting Arboretum shooting Austin. pic.twitter.com/SkIsgDoYHt
— Jamie Hammonds (@jamie_hammonds5) April 18, 2021
This story has been updated at 8 a.m. Monday to include the latest information.
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Formula 1 is returning to Florida for the first time since 1959, announcing that the brand-new Miami Grand Prix will join the calendar in 2022 and Austin will no longer be the only F1 race in the U.S.
Held at the Hard Rock Stadium complex in Miami Gardens, this will be the first race in the Sunshine State in 62 years. With a new track setup, F1 will loop the stadium, home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
Excited for @F1 @f1miami @HardRockStadium - a Global Entertainment Destination. This event will bring opportunities for so many and will be world-class. Thank you to @gregmaffei #chasecarey #stefanodomenicali @MayorRHarris @Ogilbert @CommishDiaz @MayorDaniella pic.twitter.com/n6dDDD1cPX
— Tom Garfinkel (@TomGarfinkel) April 18, 2021
The new 3.36 mile circuit has 19 corners, three straights and potential for three DRS zones, with expected top speeds of 198 mph.
Now with two races in the U.S., F1 President Stefano Domenicali said they will avoid having back-to-back events by keeping the Miami Grand Prix separate from the U.S. Grand Prix, which is held at Austin's Circuit of the Americas.
The date of the race has yet to be confirmed, though Domenicali said he expects the first race in a 10-year deal to take place in the second quarter of 2022. Austin's race will take place on Oct. 24 this year.
"The USA is a key growth market for us, and we are greatly encouraged by our growing reach in the U.S. which will be further supported by this exciting second race," Domenicali said.
Miami will mark the 11th race location in the U.S. since the Championship began in 1950: Circuit of The Americas in Austin; Dallas, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Sebring, Florida; Riverside, California; Watkins Glen, New York; Long Beach, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Detroit, Michigan and Phoenix, Arizona. COTA was first opened in 2012.
Domenicali said F1 will be working with the FIA and the Hard Rock Stadium to leave a lasting impact on the community: discounted tickets for residents, a program to support local businesses and a STEM education program through F1 in schools.
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