The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the world. Here in the U.S. telemedicine has come into the spotlight as a tool to help healthcare providers offer treatment to patients both with and without the virus.
The gold standard for disease prevention during a global pandemic is social distancing. It seems as if telemedicine services were made for social distancing, bringing providers and patients together safely without exposing either to the potential for disease transmission. That’s exactly why the latest predictions suggest there will be more than 1 billion virtual healthcare visits this year alone.
But that is just one, and perhaps the most obvious use for telemedicine services during COVID-19. Providing healthcare virtually can stretch across a surprising number of applications, and each has benefits that can extend well beyond the pandemic. Here are some best use cases for telemedicine services.
1. Triage potential COVID-19 patients. It’s estimated that visits correlated to coronavirus will exceed 900 million this year, based on the current projections. As people fall ill, hospital ERs can quickly bog down in COVID-19 cases, making the facility a potential hot zone of infection. Early in the pandemic, New York City ERs were also overrun by the “worried well.” With the news blaring the latest pandemic death toll, it is easy to see how a slight allergic cough or other flu-like symptoms could escalate in the patient’s mind to COVID-19.
But telemedicine services have taken the heat off local hospital ERs by allowing clinicians to see the patient virtually to triage their symptoms. It is in this way that telemedicine can be used for “forward triage,” which is the sorting of patients before they arrive in the hospital ER.
2. Treat mild symptoms of COVID-19 from home. Mildly symptomatic patients can be monitored from home to lessen the pressure on your local hospital. Patients with mild acute respiratory infection can be monitored daily, if necessary, and should more intensive treatment be necessary, can be advised to head to the nearest hospital ER. While telemedicine is helpful for monitoring these patients, it also provides a lifeline of comfort to worried families and patients during what is admittedly a very troubling time.
3. Make use of quarantined physicians by allowing them to work from home. According to NPR, nearly 9,300 U.S. healthcare workers have contracted COVID-19. The majority of these practitioners went on lockdown for up to 14-days with mild or no symptoms. Health systems can maximize the efficiency of their workforce by leveraging any doctor or nurse practitioner that is on lockdown with no or lessened symptoms to provide care via telemedicine services if they are able and willing. This allows healthcare providers to stretch their workforce capacity while still practicing under CDC quarantine guidelines. Clinicians that have not been exposed to the virus can continue to work on the front lines.
4. Provide care and lessen the risk for chronically ill patients. Telemedicine visits offer the perfect way to maintain treatment and monitoring for your chronically ill and elderly patients. This lessens their public exposure to the potentially deadly pandemic while still receiving routine care. This is a crucial point; the coronavirus seems to have more of an effect on those with secondary illness and older populations. We know COVID-19 can be deadly for anyone with a compromised immune system. Telemedicine services can help clinicians treat those with asthma, diabetes, and heart disease, or any other persistent condition in their patient populations. By using the virtual visit, clinicians can help these at-risk patients avoid possible exposure to COVID-19 in a hospital ER or a medical practice waiting room.
5. Provide a new revenue stream for your practice. As more states enacted stay at home orders and even curtailed nonessential physician office visits, smaller independent practices, just like any other small American business, began to suffer. Most hospitals and specialty providers also curtailed nonessential surgeries, which are typically primary revenue streams for these organizations. In this climate, telemedicine services became an important revenue generator for healthcare providers while also providing care to their clients during the crisis. CNBC quoted a healthcare professional as saying, “These virtual visits are literally a lifeline for the business of the practice, and then the real lifeline for the patients, because otherwise those people would not be able to be seen.”
6. For the seriously ill, electronic intensive care unit (e-ICU) monitoring allows doctors and nurses to remotely monitor patients without risking unnecessary exposure. The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) reported on Mercy Virtual Care Center, which monitors 60 to 100 patients in ICUs located in multiple hospital facilities. Sutter Health and Sentara Healthcare are also using these effective and unusual approaches to leverage virtual care.
7. Community paramedicine is being piloted around the country. These programs allow telemedicine to be used to augment 9-1-1 first responders, with the goal of reducing transmission to the ER by bringing a virtual doctor onto the scene with the paramedic. Projects like ETHAN (Emergency Telehealth and Navigation) have been providing this model for coordinated care in Houston, Texas since 2014.
8. Extend care coordination with telemedicine services. Virtual technology can bring together patients and caregivers as well as facilitate communication between subspecialists. This allows for virtual emergency consultations for ER on-calls when a subspecialist isn’t available on-site.
9. Provide an on-call clinician for assisted living facilities. Residents in senior living facilities are in a high-risk category for COVID-19. Telemedicine services can provide care while still enforcing social distancing for the elderly or infirm. One study showed that two-thirds of the hospitalizations of nursing home patients can routinely be avoided with access to on-site triage. Many of the tests necessary to make a diagnosis can be performed by nursing home staff and then streamed to physicians in real-time. Lab tests, ultrasounds, EKGs, vital signs, wound care, and more, can all be handled by nursing home staff in coordination with a remote midlevel or doctor to make the diagnosis and set up a treatment plan.
Telemedicine services are now firmly established as a necessary and important part of providing care. SpringHealth Live offers a HIPAA-compliant telemedicine subscription service that is easy-to-use and effective for providing care. The application works well on any digital device and is fully encrypted and secure. Talk to our team about instigating your own telemedicine service line today.