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Telemedicine in a Quarantined World: Healthcare’s Push for Virtual Care

A doctor treating a patient over the Internet

Healthcare systems all over the world are experiencing extreme pressures as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds. The U.S. is no different. Particularly in states like New York, California, and Washington, emergency rooms and hospitals are being bombarded with potential cases. And given the highly contagious nature of the virus, grave concerns about exposure exist. This has led to widespread quarantines and self-isolation as a result. While these issues affect all commerce, it is clearly impacting healthcare systems the most.

Understanding the situation, healthcare systems are increasingly turning to telemedicine as a potential solution. Telemedicine offers doctors and others remote access to patients that can be advantageous in the current setting. Specifically, numerous benefits of telemedicine exist, and telemedicine providers are increasing in number. Thus, many reasons support the use of this virtual type of care. And exploring the benefits of telemedicine offers a better perspective on how healthcare is rapidly changing under COVID-19.

“Telemedicine hasn’t traditionally been used in response to public health crises, but that is changing with COVID-19. I’m encouraged that government and private insurance companies are making policy changes to promote its use.” – G. Cameron Deemer, President of DrFirst, a healthcare communications and telehealth technology company

Understanding Telemedicine in the Time of Coronavirus

Telemedicine is not a new technology that healthcare systems have just adopted. In fact, the benefits of telemedicine have been well-recognized for some time. Most notably, these systems allow enhanced access to healthcare by connecting telemedicine providers with remote patients. This not only improves overall care but has the potential to reduce costs and improve efficiencies along the way. Despite this, the adoption of telemedicine has been gradual for many hospitals and emergency rooms. But with the COVID-19 pandemic upon us, all of that is changing.

An elderly woman getting medical treatment via video conference.
A quarantined world means seeing your doctor via video conference call.

The benefits of telemedicine offer specific advantages during a pandemic that has encouraged most healthcare systems to pursue its adoption. But because many lacked protocols for telemedicine, or even the necessary infrastructure, achieving this has been difficult. Several healthcare systems also lack telemedicine providers, who must be properly credentialed. And many who have telemedicine struggle with poor quality issues. Still, the benefits of telemedicine still outweigh these limitations. And because of that, most healthcare systems are pushing ahead to include telemedicine in its armamentarium.

“By deploying telehealth solutions and programs, people who are suffering from other medical ailments during this time can receive care from home, without entering medical facilities, minimizing their risk of contracting the virus.” – Dedi Gilad, CEO and Cofounder of Tyto Care, a telemedicine technology company

The Benefits of Telemedicine During the Pandemic

In terms of the advantages of telemedicine, several can be noted during routine times. But the advantages of telemedicine are even more substantial during an infectious pandemic. For this reason, hospitals and emergency rooms are rapidly trying to get telemedicine providers up to speed. In doing so, they hope to avoid being overwhelmed while offering enhanced care to patients. The following are a list of the most notable benefits of telemedicine driving these changes.

  • Improved Care Efficiency – One of the known benefits of telemedicine is its capacity to reduce the amount of time required for optimal care. Patients spend less time going to appointments, and telemedicine providers spend less time during virtual evaluations. This results in the ability to see more patients on any given day, which is a high priority in current times.
  • Reduced Infection Exposure – This is not only true for patients but also for telemedicine providers. By using virtual care platforms, person-to-person contact and interactions are avoided. This eliminates the potential spread of the virus during a patient encounter. Likewise, it also reduces many other potential exposures that might have occurred on the patient’s travels to the hospital.
  • Improved Patient Triage – By using telemedicine, patients can be screened at home before arriving to a healthcare facility. If they meet specific criteria, then they can be triaged to the appropriate location as a result. This also reduces unnecessary exposures while improving the efficiency of care. These benefits of telemedicine are highly relevant to COVID-19 given the need to properly allocate resources.
  • Maximizing the Healthcare Workforce – Naturally, telemedicine providers will be more likely to care for patients because their risk of exposure will be decreased. But at the same time, those quarantined can also use telemedicine and continue to care for patients safely. This is one of the benefits of telemedicine that is often under-appreciated.
  • Better Care for Chronically Ill Patients – Lastly, one of the benefits of telemedicine also involves the care of chronically ill individuals. These patients are at higher risk of mortality if they contract COVID-19. Thus, telemedicine providers can care for these patients more safely and appropriately by using remote virtual and robotic systems.

“Appropriate measures can be taken to minimize the risks to healthcare workers and patients. The right actions can then be taken for the patients who have been pre-screened, saving precious time and minimizing risks of transmission to all.”- Dr. Siaw Tung Yeng, Founder and CEO of MaNaDr, a telemedicine technology and services company

A System Not Without Its Challenges

Understandably, the COVID-19 pandemic has caught most of us off-guard. Thus, it is not surprising that healthcare systems and their telemedicine platforms were not prepared either. This has resulted in a number of barriers in realizing all the benefits of telemedicine during this crisis. Such barriers include limited access to needed hardware as well as insufficient broadband access. Likewise, many healthcare systems have low numbers of telemedicine providers who have been properly credentialed. And proper training of staff and patients are notable limitations. All of these have undermined the success of many telemedicine systems to date.

While these challenges persist, one of the positive aspects of the pandemic is the wake-up call it is providing. Hospitals, emergency rooms, and healthcare triage areas are now appreciating the benefits of telemedicine and its role in crises. As a result, it is likely that healthcare systems will ramp up their efforts to enhance telehealth systems in the future. Likewise, telemedicine providers and patients alike with improve their skills in using these technologies. If there was any silver lining to the current COVID-19 pandemic, this may be one of them.

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