Medical Economics calls the coronavirus an “opportunity” for physicians to try telemedicine. Telemedicine consults could potentially slow the spread of the virus by keeping at-risk patients out of a public setting. With millions of Americans at home in the coming weeks, doctors should consider a telemedicine option for patients with non-urgent care needs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued their Interim Guidance for Healthcare Facilities that recommends exploring alternatives to face-to-face clinical treatments to slow the spread of this highly contagious illness.
How could telehealth become a resource for clinicians and patients that will help slow the spread of this pandemic? What are the benefits of these tools and how can providers adapt their workflows to the virtual visit?
Telehealth Slows Transmission of the Coronavirus
As we write this, the exponential spread of COVID-19 has begun ravaging the country. Governments have responded by locking down communities and states. In this heightened level of concern, Americans must avoid public settings where the possible transmission of the virus creates potential risks.
This is a serious problem for those with routine illnesses and chronic care conditions that require ongoing treatment. The elderly, those with chronic illness, or people with compromised immune systems require an alternative to the traditional office visit.
Medical Economics suggests that this is the perfect time for doctors to leverage the benefits of telemedicine for their practice. More Americans are using Skype or Zoom to keep in touch; it is in this kind of receptive environment that the transition to virtual visits would be both a simple transition and an effective way to provide care.
While not all visits can be handled via telemedicine, these tools offer a way to triage patients beyond a simple phone call. A telehealth videoconference allows clinicians to see patients in a face-to-face environment without added risk of COVID-19 exposure. This is important both for patients and clinical teams. Doctors, nurses, and midlevels can triage the patient or simply provide routine standardized monitoring for the chronically ill without exposure to potential infection.
While clinicians may worry that elderly patients will not adapt well to telemedicine, Medical Economics suggest the opposite is true, stating, “Once they’re accustomed to the technology, patients largely value the convenience and personal attention available with telehealth visits.”
An opinion piece in The Hill suggests that extraordinary times call for immediate workflow changes around some of our most established traditions:
“While we are homebound, we will need to reconsider many of the services that we traditionally have done in professional settings and that we can do in the comfort of our own homes. Welcome to the next level of telemedicine.”
Across the country, telemedicine is being quickly adapted as an alternative to the in-person visit to help control exposure to the virus. As we reported last week, insurance payers have extended telehealth coverage, new legislation has been introduced to expand Medicare telehealth coverage, and multiple health systems have rolled out telemedicine initiatives.
But are we moving quickly enough? The CDC just came out with their recommendations to slow the spread of COVID-19 and telehealth is prominently featured as a resource that could have a real impact on the numbers.
CDC Recommends Telehealth to Clinical Teams
The CDC’s Interim Guidance for Healthcare Facilities: Preparing for Community Transmission of COVID-19 in the United States outlines strategies for U.S. healthcare providers to prepare and respond to the spread of the coronavirus across the country. The organization admits that clinical teams should expect widespread illness and an overwhelming influx of patients in our nation’s hospitals and healthcare facilities.
The COVID-19 virus will undoubtedly place a great strain on small practices as well as large health systems. Smaller medical practices must respond now to keep their existing patients safe from exposure to the virus. With so many of our patients struggling with long term chronic conditions, forcing them for routine health checks in a traditional setting could pose a great risk to their health in a time of pandemic.
According to the CDC, the key goals for our healthcare providers should be to:
- Reduce mortality.
- Minimize the spread of the disease.
- Protect healthcare personnel.
- Preserve functioning of our nation’s systems of care delivery.
In addition to addressing standards of care, workflows and protocols, and the clinical management of coronavirus patients, the CDC recommends that clinical teams:
- Explore telemedicine as an alternative to face-to-face triage and visits.
- Develop protocols to conduct these visits.
- Define which patients can be managed by video conferencing or a phone call and which should be escalated to an in-person office or emergency room visit.
- Leverage remote communication methods for triaging, assessing, and caring for patients to decrease the influx of in-office visits.
- If no telemedicine visit is available, healthcare providers should resort to telephone consults.
- Health plans, payers, practice providers, and healthcare systems should communicate with patients to promote the use of these virtual visits.
- Proactively support patients that are at a higher risk of COVID-19-related complications and provide them with instructions on what to do if they become ill.
The CDC recommends leveraging telecommunications devices to manage patients at home who are ill with minor or stable chronic illnesses. They suggest:
“Shifting practices to triaging and assessing ill patients (including those affected by COVID-19 and patients with other conditions) remotely using nurse advice lines, provider “visits” by telephone, text monitoring system, video conference, or other telehealth and telemedicine methods can reduce exposure of ill persons with staff and minimize surge on facilities.”
The organization recognizes these shifts will be complex and difficult for healthcare providers, however, they suggest that these changes are absolutely necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Telemedicine for Your Practice
Over the past few years, OrthoLive has been providing a customized, HIPAA-compliant telemedicine application to small to mid-sized orthopedic practices around the country. In the face of this unprecedented pandemic, we have worked quickly to create a seamless telemedicine application suitable for any practice provider. This is an affordable solution that can allow even the smallest practice to provide a smartphone-enabled telehealth solution to their patients to keep them safe during this crisis. Contact us.