The Rise in Telemedicine
Prior to the COVID19 crisis, many practices looked barely scratched the surface in implementing telehealth to their practices. In fact, most, were uncertain as to how telehealth could augment their current services. To many, the idea of telehealth was little more than a concierge visit that they could offer to their “top tier” patients.
But as in-clinic volumes began to tumble in early March due to shelter-in-place orders and the uncertainty faced by many patients, the appeal of telehealth to REACH their patient population became not only feasible but for many practices, a life preserver.
Many practices have begun implementing even the most basic service as a method to “screen” or TRIAGE potential COVID patients in order to prevent contamination or infection of staff or other non-respiratory/suspect-COVID patients. Through telehealth screenings/triage, the practice is better able to avoid or can direct a suspect COVID patient to the best resources or testing, while still being able to evaluate and manage non-COVID (such as soft-tissue, wound, or other complaints) within the facility.
This has reduced the issues of social distancing and allowed many practices to close their physical waiting rooms, instead directing their patients to check-in online, utilizing telemedicine/telehealth applications as a means to wait at home or in their cars until they can be called to a treatment room and reducing the risk of contact with other patients.
For many practices, perhaps one of the biggest benefits of telehealth is the protection it affords to its staff. By utilizing telehealth to treat and manage patients, they are reducing the risk of contact and potential infection of their providers. Telehealth ideally allows the provider to remain remote and away from possible COVID infection reducing the potential for staffing loss. In a public practice, an infected provider has the potential to spread the virus significantly depending on the number of patients he/she might contact during an average day. The risk also to losing a provider to self-quarantine for 14 days is also minimized since they could potentially still manage a telehealth practice while still under self-quarantine.
For a large practice or facility, one long-term benefit is the potential for load-balancing staff/providers. The ability for a provider located in California to manage patients in Maryland is just as practical as having a provider at one facility available to manage an overabundance of patients located twenty miles away at another facility.
Another benefit of telehealth is perhaps the simplest and most commonplace; the opportunity to communicate and follow-up. Through telehealth, the practice or practitioner has a very convenient means to reach out to the patient without the barriers of transportation or any other inconveniences (or risks) to manage on-going care or recent treatment. Further, telehealth provides an excellent means for a patient to seek information or consultation 24/7 (assuming service is available) or for other non-urgent questions or needs.
Finally, whatever the future holds for the COVID19 pandemic, telehealth will continue to grow and expand as practices look for ways to prepare for the next crisis that will undoubtedly come. More efficiencies through the use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) or chatbots will likely see an increase to help patients navigate even faster through the medical practice. With telehealth visits up already between 200-500% (depending on the demographic/area of the country), it’s unlikely that many of those patients that have become familiar with using telehealth applications will turn back.