As we write this, the coronavirus outbreak has spread across more than 100 countries. The U.S. is in lockdown mode to slow the march of the virus across the country. Emergency rooms are just beginning to see the first in what will soon be a flood of patients. As healthcare providers and payers prepare for the worst, and Americans hunker down in their homes, there’s also been a new wave of demand for remote telemedicine tools. Here’s how telehealth can help us stay ahead of COVID-19 in the coming months.
How Organizations Are Encouraging Telemedicine Use
Health Affairs reports, “The outbreak has generated a frenzy of activity related to telehealth.” This includes:
- Insurance payers extending telehealth coverage. For example, Aetna has waived co-pays for telehealth visits for any reason for 90-days for all commercial plans. Other providers have announced similar emergency measures.
- New legislation introduced in Congress to expand Medicare telehealth coverage by $500 million. The rules would allow CMS to extend telehealth coverage to beneficiaries no matter where they are located.
- Multiple health systems are launching telehealth initiatives to handle the influx of patients, including UCSF, UW Medicine, NYU Langone, OHSU, and Intermountain—to name a few.
- On March 13, a viewpoint from Kaiser Permanente doctors published in the Journal of the American Medical Association recommended to hospitals that remote care be delivered to symptomatic patients via “telephone or video conferencing and treatment protocols to ensure social distancing when appropriate.”
Health Affairs has come out strongly in favor of these efforts. In an article yesterday the organization stated:
“The speed and scale at which coronavirus has spread across the world have created major challenges for the U.S. health care system. Telehealth can make a valuable contribution to coronavirus screening, testing, and treatment efforts. We should seize the opportunity to leverage telehealth platforms in the most effective and efficient ways possible throughout the country to help protect public health and save lives.”
How Telehealth Can Slow the Spread of COVID-19
“Providers who do not yet have on-demand telehealth programs should mobilize internal resources to build infrastructure and capacity.”
In the same way that remote video conferencing can keep workers safe in their homes while still being productive, telemedicine can offer providers new ways to provide care. Telehealth can minimize exposure to healthcare providers or between patients.
Telemedicine tools help enforce social distancing to protect patients and clinical providers, while still allowing triage and treatment without overrunning our hospital ERs. A telehealth visit can help prevent unnecessary ER visits while also keeping patients with allergies or simple flu from being exposed to COVID-19 in a hospital setting. After the telemedicine visit, if a patient is suspected of having the coronavirus, the hospital can prepare an isolated space in the ER suitable to handle these types of cases.
Telemedicine can also help with patient consults during this time of crisis. Infectious disease specialists will likely be stretched thin in the coming months. Telehealth can allow rural hospitals the ability to consult an infectious disease provider when one isn’t readily available. Hospitals in more urban settings can also stretch their resources at a time when our systems and clinical providers will surely be put to the test.
Telehealth can also help with remote monitoring of existing at-risk patient populations to keep them away from hospitals during the COVID-19 crisis. This virus is a big threat to people with compromised immune systems and pre-existing conditions. Telemedicine tools can keep these patients at home, sheltering in place while still receiving care from their provider. They can also allow providers to carefully monitor their condition for spikes that could require additional in-person treatment.
Telehealth to Help Your Patients
Telehealth has always been an ideal way to expedite quality care to patients during flu outbreaks. With a virus such as COVID-19, which has a much higher risk of human-to-human transmission than even the most virulent seasonal flu, telehealth becomes critical to limit the spread and help hospitals cope with the influx of cases that are expected.
However, it should be noted that telehealth has seen slow adoption rates over the past fifty years. While there are signs that the use of these tools is increasing, and our patients express a great deal of interest in virtual visit technology, adoption has evolved gradually.
We anticipate that the COVID-19 virus, itself a kind of slow moving freight train, will push the evolution of telehealth to the forefront of medicine. An article in MarketWatch yesterday agreed, suggesting:
“However, as some states and cities in the U.S. have moved toward some form of a lockdown to mitigate the impact of the virus and as the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continues to rise, some clinicians say the pandemic may serve as a tipping point for telehealth in America.”
OrthoLive was the first telemedicine platform devoted exclusively to offering orthopedic providers this technology to improve the lives of patients and providers. Our HIPAA-compliant, encrypted application has been tested across the country and is currently in use today by orthopedic providers seeking to improve care delivery. The OrthoLive product is as easy to use, as it is affordable. One low monthly fee per clinician allows immediate access to a customizable telehealth tool accessible on any digital device.
Over the past several months, we have been working on a customizable telehealth platform suitable for any primary care or specialty practice. OrthoLive is preparing to launch our new telehealth product, SpringHealthLive. Like the OrthoLive product, SpringHealthLive created these tools with the small independent provider in mind. The SpringHillLive telehealth subscription service will allow any practice to quickly set up and leverage telemedicine tools to help keep patients and providers safe. We are committed to using these tools to help your practice respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Talk with our team today to find out how telehealth can help your practice.