As the American public grows more concerned about the coronavirus and healthcare providers prepare for a possible influx of US cases, there is one technology available to help lessen the spread of these infections. Telemedicine can help hospitals and other clinical care providers keep ill patients at home, potentially slowing the spread of the disease. Here’s how telehealth could positively impact patient and provider communication and caregiving during the spread of this global viral outbreak.
March 2020 Coronavirus Update
As of this writing, 2019-nCoV, more commonly called the Novel Coronavirus, has spread to the United States and the first deaths have occurred. Concern about the illness is spreading even faster than the virus, and health professionals are gearing up for what could be a potential pandemic. With over 40,000 infected individuals worldwide and growing and more than 1,000 deaths, the coronavirus is now more virulent than SARS.
The CDC issued a report urging employers to send sick employees home. The US public health organization has restricted nonessential travel to a number of global locations, including China, Italy, and South Korea, and is working closely with state health providers to prepare their infrastructures for more additional outbreaks.
While we currently do not have a cure for this illness, there is technology available to help lessen the strain on hospitals and other healthcare providers, while helping slow down the spread of the disease. Let’s explore how telemedicine could make a difference in the treatment of 2019-nCoV.
Health Leaders Call for Expansion of Telehealth
In late February, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) called on healthcare leaders to embrace telehealth tools. Nancy Messonnier, director at the CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases called telehealth “part of a larger strategy to fight the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.” She called on American hospitals to expand their use of telehealth services to help keep relatively healthy people out of doctor’s offices and hospitals.
Not only can telemedicine keep people from bunching up in hospital beds, but the technology can also be used to combat misinformation while treating patients. But a recent STAT report suggested, “Patients are ready for more telehealth than many health systems can provide.”
China Uses 5G Network for Remote Coronavirus Telehealth
In late January, well after the coronavirus had leaped the quarantine set by authorities in Wuhan, China, Business Insider reported that the first remote diagnosis of the illness was made possible by a 5G telehealth platform.
Chinese telecom giant ZTE installed a telehealth network for the West China Hospital of Sichuan University. Patients and doctors were brought together by video on a low-latency, high-quality 5G network. The network allowed doctors to provide high quality patient care without exposing themselves to a potentially deadly illness. It also allows for a small number of physicians to reach a large volume of patients.
FierceHealthcare Releases Coronavirus Telemedicine Recommendations
While China was first to use telemedicine to improve the clinical response to the disease, FierceHealthcare just released its suggestions for clinical teams gearing up for what they suggest is the inevitable spread of coronavirus. They write, “As such, we as a healthcare industry must start preparing and readying ourselves for the potential of a severe outbreak in the US.” The increase in disease transmission has the potential to overwhelm our resources, so prevention and infection control measures must be methodical and resourceful.
The key, FierceHealthcare reports, is in “social distancing,” or staying away from crowds. To do this, the publication urged healthcare providers to leverage telehealth whenever possible to protect the public and the physicians that service them. Their recommendations include:
- Use telemedicine to divert ER patients.
Telehealth can help alleviate some of the pressure on overburdened ERs. If the expected influx of patients with upper respiratory symptoms hits, hospital urgent response mechanisms will quickly be overwhelmed and infection control will falter. Telemedicine can divert patients from ERs and lessen the risk to other patients and caregivers, as well as cut the costs of providing care.
- Telemedicine can prevent the spread of the disease by keeping patients at home.
Telemedicine can allow patients to shelter in place at home while communicating with clinicians by videoconference. Healthcare providers must resort to extraordinary clinical protocols to protect themselves against the spread of the virus. But telemedicine can protect both patient and provider by keeping distance between the two without reducing the quality of care.
- Telehealth reaches underserved communities.
Telehealth services can maximize our existing resources by extending the reach of clinical providers into rural communities that lack adequate resources to combat a dangerous infectious disease.
- Engage and educate patients.
Telehealth conferences can help doctors and healthcare workers educate patients on care protocols as well as prevention methodologies. However, healthcare organizations must work quickly to communicate the value of the virtual visit with a trusted healthcare provider from the privacy and safety of the patient’s home.
A growing number of lawmakers recommend additional support for telehealth services in the upcoming coronavirus supplemental budget talks, according to POLITICO. Organizations such as The American Telemedicine Association, The Alliance for Connected Care, and the eHealth Initiative have petitioned Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to waive the remaining telehealth restrictions during national emergencies. POLITICO points out, “Coronavirus supplemental budget talks have presented a unique opportunity for these groups and sympathetic lawmakers to work in a telehealth provision.”
While Medicare Advantage plans currently reimburse for telehealth visits, Medicare still has restrictions on originating sites and geographic locations. With expanded reimbursement and more liberal telehealth regulations, many coronavirus screenings could occur outside the hospital setting. Lower-risk patients could begin with a virtual telehealth visit, which would limit their exposure to the coronavirus in a public healthcare setting.
Preparing for the Coronavirus
It should be noted that the spread of the coronavirus is not inevitable. Containment may be possible, and telehealth is one tool that could be used to help slow the spread of the disease and possibly, lessen the impact.
OrthoLive is committed to presenting factual information to the public in an effort to contain the virus. By working together we can overcome these challenges. Our team is standing by to help your practice leverage telehealth to improve care outcomes during these troubling times. Contact us.