Telehealth Helps Quell the Spread of Coronavirus
As COVID-19, a novel form of the coronavirus, continues to spread across the United States, telehealth may be the best option to treat and protect the most vulnerable populations, including senior citizens and those with underlying conditions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged anyone feeling ill to first seek out remote care by video or phone as a way to avoid waiting rooms where the virus could be easily spread. And federal legislators are prioritizing telemedicine for aging populations who would be most affected by the disease.
An $8.3 billion spending bill approved by Congress included a provision to make it easier for people on Medicare to receive telehealth services at clinics and in their homes. The American Telemedicine Association, HIMSS, the eHealth Initiative, Health Innovation Alliance and Personal Connected Health Alliance all pushed for this measure.
Beyond that, healthcare providers like Blue Cross Blue Shield Association announced that it would expand access to telehealth services. Smaller insurers are following suit. Spectrum Health offering free virtual screenings for individuals in Michigan who are experiencing possible COVID-19 symptoms.
Schools have also begun to embrace telehealth solutions. And though they aren’t currently being used in relation to coronavirus, it’s great example of how communities can use the technology in non-traditional clinical settings. This will be critical if the virus continues to rapidly spread.
Telehealth is already helping patients who think they have the virus get the care they need. The New York Times reported a man who utilized virtual care set up by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. The man had recently traveled, including a brief stop in Tokyo, and developed a fever and cough. After the video consultation, the doctor determined there was a chance he had the COVID-19 and referred his case to the city health department for testing.
Virtual care allows patients access to hospital resources, including care coordinators, without requiring them to spend time in a waiting room full of other possible coronavirus carriers.
Telehealth video devices can be utilized in nursing homes and long-term care facilities—two places that house those most susceptible to COVID-19. In some cases, this technology can integrate with existing in-patient room infotainment screen for the display of the video consultation.
Virtual care capabilities can provide everything from initial consultations with those who are experiencing symptoms of the virus to round-the-clock monitoring for people diagnosed with coronavirus through high-resolution video, crisp audio and the ability to easily check vital signs remotely.
A trained provider can quickly assess a situation and alert on-site doctors if need be. This also gives those doctors and nurses the ability to care for patients with serious needs even if they can’t be in the room. This is crucial, especially when patients think they might have a communicable illness as serious as COVID-19.
The embrace of virtual care during the coronavirus presents a dual responsibility for the telehealth community. We can help patients get the care they need without further spreading coronavirus, and we can bring the benefits of virtual care to the forefront. Making telemedicine a regular practice rather than a fallback option would go a long way to improving not only the delivery of healthcare, but also the wellness of those who need it most.
Access to quality healthcare is one of the most important things we can do as a community. No one should have to go without care whether due to a novel virus strain that spreads quickly or other factors like geography and economic status. Virtual care technologies are one way to address these challenges and make the world a healthier place.
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