It has been an unexpected result of the COVID-19 pandemic but the telemedicine industry is booming.
The Coronavirus has changed a number of things in our world including how we connect with healthcare services and providers. Statistics show that the telemedicine industry has seen a spike in usage over the past few weeks, according to CNBC. As more and more people are following social distancing measures, connecting to quality medical care through video calls is becoming a normal way of life.
How COVID-19 Is Impacting Healthcare
The coronavirus’ arrival on the scene has been impacting health care services across the country and the world. The shelter in place orders that governments have issued has changed the traditional face of healthcare in a number of ways. These include:
- Safety – coronavirus is believed to be transmitted from person to person through droplets, which makes being near to one another a risk. People can have the virus without being aware of it and without showing any symptoms. Therefore, to ensure public safety and stop the spread of the coronavirus people are encouraged to keep their distance from one another. That means it is no longer safe for doctors, their staff and patients to gather at clinics or hospitals.
- Reluctance/fear – patients with non-coronavirus symptoms are reluctant to seek medical help for themselves or their loved ones for fear of contracting COVID-19. Some reports indicate that a large number of patients may be suffering in their homes or seeking alternative treatments.
- Disruption – those with conditions that need ongoing care and monitoring could find accessing their healthcare team difficult. These patients are among the most vulnerable when it comes to infections, particularly to the negative impact that COVID-19 can have. Keeping them safe at home is very important for their long-term health, but it hinders their ability to receive routine care for their chronic illness.
Telemedicine’s Role In Overcoming COVID-19
Over the past couple of months, health care providers have been looking for ways to continue offering their services without putting themselves or their patients at risk. Following government shelter in place regulations, treating patients in clinics and hospitals become more difficult. Moreover, patients may also be hesitant to seek out medical help for non-coronavirus symptoms. Using telemedicine tools, doctors, nurses and other health care providers can still connect with patients either through a video call, messaging or phone call to assess their condition. In addition, telemedicine has been a useful tool in helping overcome the pandemic in a variety of ways including:
- Distancing – One of the biggest benefits that telemedicine offers is remote care where the patient, physician and staff can all stay safe at a distance. Through video calls, patients are able to access the care and advice they need from health care providers, without putting themselves, the physicians or nurses at risk. Another creative way that hospitals have been using telemedicine tools has been through robots and iPads, according to The Washington Post. ER doctors are able to communicate and assess patients seeking emergency care through iPads strapped to stands. Depending on the patient’s symptoms, these robots can have a stethoscope attachment or another piece of equipment to help the doctor assess the patient remotely. In this way, both the patient and the doctor retain safe social distancing practices while ensuring the patient gets treatment for their condition. Another benefit of this practice is the doctor does not need to use up the hospitals’ valuable supply of masks and gowns.
- Urgent COVID-19 video calls – some healthcare providers, such as Dignity Health, are offering free assessments for patients who are showing coronavirus symptoms. These virtual urgent care calls are helping identify and treat COVID-19 patients. Through this telemedicine service, officials are able to gather accurate data on the virus and its spread while protecting patients and health care providers.
- Keeping waiting rooms empty – telemedicine is helping hospitals triage patients virtually rather than in a physical waiting room. This helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus between people.
- Managing doctor’s schedule – many physicians have been able to adapt to using telemedicine tools to meet with patients and maintain a busy schedule of treatment. This means that there are fewer patients that will have to wait to see a doctor about their concerns.
The Future of Telemedicine
While telemedicine may be having big success now, will that carry over when the COVID-19 emergency has passed?
One of the biggest hurdles in overcoming telemedicine’s move to mainstream healthcare has been cost. However, following the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) made it easier for telemedicine services to be billed to patients’ insurance. This change prompted the American Academy of Family Physicians to release guidelines on how to use telemedicine technology.
Once the COVID-19 concerns are over, it is very likely these health organizations will continue to offer telemedicine as a service for patients. Moreover, the loosening of restrictions provides the telemedicine industry with an opportunity to prove itself. If it can be seen as a viable health care option, policymakers may be inclined to allow the temporary measures to become permanent.
As many individuals become adept at using video conferencing tools for work and school as a result of social distancing practices, these tools are also becoming commonplace for telehealth providers and patients. Tools like Skype or FaceTime have become acceptable ways to communicate with patients.
Whether quarantine orders remain in place for weeks or months, more and more patients are turning to telemedicine tools to help them manage their health care. This is going to change their expectation for future delivery of services. They will know first-hand the convenience of using these tools to see a doctor, nurse or specialist. It is unlikely they will be willing to go back to the traditional ways of waiting in a doctor’s office for hours on end.
You can find out more about telemedicine or receive a free COVID-19 virtual assessment through the Dignity Health website.