How COVID-19 is Changing Telemedicine
By: Diana Cugliari
President & CEO
Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we do just about everything – including how we provide and receive healthcare. If you find yourself talking with your doctor more often via video call than in the office, you aren’t alone.
Since the onset of the pandemic last spring, federal and state governments have eased restrictions that had previously impeded the use of telemedicine platforms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “The 154% increase in telehealth visits during the last week of March 2020, compared with the same period in 2019 might have been related to pandemic-related telehealth policy changes and public guidance.”
This has helped to propel emerging telehealth platforms into more widespread use, and now telehealth is emerging as a preferred delivery method for both providers and patients.
This stands to reason – not only is telehealth more convenient (no driving, parking, waiting in-office), it reduces risk to exposure and also helps to conserve the use of medical supplies and precious personal protective equipment (PPE).
In some scenarios, though, the use of telemedicine may not be ideal – for instance, if a patient’s condition requires more involved evaluation, testing, or labs.
Also, while telehealth may be a bridge to care for some, for others it may be a barrier. Some patients may struggle to overcome a variety of obstacles – no internet service, no smartphone or other device to access virtual care, lack of technical knowledge or resistance to embracing technology needed, and lack of a caregiver/support person who can help. Outreach and support are needed to help patients overcome these disparities and facilitate telehealth access.
This is especially important for those living with chronic conditions, as a telehealth platform is an ideal solution for chronic disease management, according to Pamela Greenhouse, Chief Operating Officer and Vice-President of Clinical Operations at Wellbridge Health, a connected health management company.
“There is no doubt that telehealth can improve the quality of care, such as in cases where patients would not travel to necessary medical appointments or need more frequent health intervention than traditional care models provide,” says Ms. Greenhouse. “Our chronic disease management approach, which provides frequent, brief one-on-one telehealth interactions in between physician visits, has been shown to improve health outcomes and quality of life while decreasing avoidable ER/hospitalizations.”
Will telehealth remain a preferred delivery method even post-pandemic? That may depend in large part on whether the easing of restrictions on the use of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic are extended. The American Medical Association (AMA) is advocating to make these policy changes permanent.
Meanwhile, many of us have become accustomed to seeing our doctors from the comfort of our living room – bring a whole new spin on the old-fashioned “house call.”