The coronavirus shows no signs of slowing here in the U.S. The number of confirmed cases has surpassed 5,000, marking a 500% increase in just seven days. Multiple states, including New York, Washington, Ohio, and California are putting residents on lockdown to slow the spread of infection.
Social distancing is key when it comes to responding to a pandemic. U.S. citizens everywhere are being encouraged to avoid gatherings of ten or more people and stay at least six feet away from strangers. Scientists still aren’t exactly sure how the virus spreads from person to person, so they’re erring on the side of caution. Several cases of community spread have been reported across the country, which means the virus might be able to jump from one individual to the next even without direct contact.
To improve social distancing and limit the spread of infection, many providers and health systems are turning to telehealth, so they can care for and monitor patients remotely without bringing them in for an in-person appointment. Take a look at how telehealth and virtual care are helping providers deal with the pandemic.
How Telehealth Is Making a Difference on the Ground
- Remote Consultations and Triaging Symptoms
The coronavirus outbreak happens to coincide with the tail-end of this year’s flu season, which means millions of Americans are likely wondering if their runny noses or sore throats means they have COVID-19 or influenza.
The U.S. has suffered from a shortage of coronavirus testing kits since the outbreak began. Health systems across the country have been struggling to confirm potential cases of COVID-19.
Currently, patients are being encouraged to stay home if their symptoms are mild. They should only seek in-person medical care if they have shortness of breath, direct contact with someone that has the virus, or if they’re over the age of 60 with pre-existing conditions.
Patients are using telehealth to remotely connect with their care providers via live video and audio to see if they should come in for an in-person appointment. Based on their symptoms, the provider will either tell the patient to stay at home and remotely prescribe medication if needed or have them come in for an appointment to further diagnose and treat symptoms accordingly.
Triaging patients before they come in for an appointment helps limit the spread of infection. Providers don’t have to worry about their waiting rooms filling up with infectious patients. Patients can also get the information they need quickly, without setting foot inside a healthcare facility if symptoms don’t point to a high risk of COVID-19.
- Protecting the Most Vulnerable Members of Society
The coronavirus poses the greatest risk to seniors and those with underlying health conditions. These individuals also tend to suffer from limited mobility. They may have trouble getting to and from the doctor’s office.
With telehealth, seniors can stay put and still get much of the healthcare they need. Doctors don’t have to expose their most vulnerable patients to unnecessary risks, and care can quickly be administered virtually to those who would otherwise have the most difficulty receiving it.
- Monitoring Patients and Their Symptoms
With limited coronavirus testing, some patients’ symptoms may worsen over time or they may begin to experience a shortness of breath. In these cases, they would need emergency care. Left untreated, the illness can progress to a point that requires the need to go on life support or use a ventilator.
Doctors are using telehealth to continuously monitor their patients and their symptoms as the epidemic expands across the country. As soon as the patient’s symptoms worsen, their care provider can take additional steps to make sure they get the care they need.
- Patient Capacity and Demand for Healthcare Services
Hospitals and staff are being pushed to the breaking point in certain parts of the country, including Seattle and other hard-hit areas. There are only so many beds available for coronavirus patients, which means some may be turned away. Some nurses are being asked to make life-or-death decisions on the spot as they decide which patients have the best chance of surviving the virus. Some facilities are even turning storage spaces and basements into patient screening rooms.
Providers can also use live video and audio to remotely check up on other chronically ill patients and those recovering from surgery instead of keeping them at facilities. Keeping patients at home and out of the hospital can help providers better manage their limited resources, including facemasks, gloves, goggles, and hospital beds.
In response to the coronavirus, the Trump Administration announced that it will be easing Medicare restrictions for telehealth. Under the new rule, Medicare patients can now visit any doctor by phone or videoconference at no additional cost. Patients can also use common video conferencing services like FaceTime and Skype to remotely connect with care providers.
Previously, Medicare patients could only access these services in rural areas and at specially designed facilities. Providers can now reach elderly patients across the country without worrying about not getting reimbursed for their time.
The Race to Adopt Telehealth
As the coronavirus spreads, more providers will likely adopt telehealth in the days and weeks to come. However, many facilities and health systems do not have telehealth networks in place, which means they may not have the means to care for patients remotely. Investing in telehealth will help more providers respond to this ongoing crisis while reducing the spread of infection.
According to InTouch Health, one of the country’s leading telehealth equipment providers, “Gloves and surgical masks can only do so much to prevent the spread of disease-causing bacteria. If a care provider were to get infected with the coronavirus, they could unintentionally infect dozens, if not hundreds, of patients and their colleagues. That’s why providers are using virtual care devices to care for coronavirus patients. Instead of having providers care for infected patients directly, the device can administer care to patients without the risk of exposure.”
Consider adopting telehealth as your facility looks for ways to respond to the pandemic.