Telemedicine in the Age of Coronavirus
By Dr. Walter Holmsten, M.D. and D. C. Campbell, Vice President of Network
Published in The Sentinel Reporter – February/March 2020 Coronavirus Special Edition
“Telemedicine is here to stay.” That was the declaration in an article last December, which announced the telemedicine partnership between Injury Management Organization, Inc. (IMO) and RediMD. If there was any doubt then that the statement was true, just flash forward 90 days to today, with the globe now deep in the coronavirus anguish. Telemedicine is being heralded as a formidable weapon in battling a virus that threatens millions of lives and major economies around the world.
We have only to look at the headlines to see that a new age is dawning. “Doctors and Patients Turn to Telemedicine in the Coronavirus Outbreak” (The New York Times, March 11, 2020). “Coronavirus Prompts Hospitals to Fast-Track Telemedicine Projects” (Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2020). “U.S. telehealth companies brace for demand spike as coronavirus spread accelerates” (Reuters, March 6, 2020). “Telehealth Benefits in Medicare are a Lifeline for Patients During Coronavirus Outbreak” (The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), March 9, 2020). We are now in the age of coronavirus, and telemedicine is ready to take it on.
Just weeks before telemedicine received widespread recognition as a potential barrier to the dreaded coronavirus, the IMO December article focused on the delivery of telemedicine services to injured employees. IMO’s Telemed program with RediMD allows injured employees to see and speak interactively with a medical professional through any device that has a web cam and internet connection such as a smart phone, laptop computer, desk top computer, I-Pad or tablet. Doctors say that this early telemedicine intervention in non-emergency injuries can result in earlier recovery, faster return-to-work, and reduced medical costs.
But there is more. As the December article noted, “Telemedicine also has an unexpected benefit. It is ideal for injured employees who are reluctant to visit clinics, especially during seasons when their chances of contracting viral infections increase from exposure to other patients.” Given the more than two-hundred thousand work-place injuries annually in Texas, telemedicine services could significantly reduce clinical visits across the state.
Exactly the reason that medical professionals are raving about telemedicine in the age of the coronavirus. Telemedicine can expedite a doctor’s evaluation of a patient’s symptoms, promote timely and appropriate treatment, while minimizing patient gridlock and infestation in clinics.
For example, a doctor may use cellular phone and video conversations to safely screen and prescribe treatments for coronavirus patients. She might recommend that a 30-year-old otherwise-healthy patient with mild coronavirus symptoms, stay at home in isolation, with strict guidelines to prevent infecting others in the household.
The doctor may then speak to a 65-year-old diabetic patient with more severe symptoms such as high fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Visual observations via the cellular phone and access to electronic medical records might further convince the doctor to immediately arrange emergency transportation and appropriate hospital admission, clearing the ambulance bay of non-essential people to protect patients and hospital staff from possible infection. This patient would then be taken to an isolation room to be tested and examined by medical professionals in protective gear.
Remove telemedicine from the equation and you might otherwise have both patients seated in a crowded clinic, spreading the coronavirus to untold numbers, including the doctor.
Telemedicine can also reduce the risks of excessive and unnecessary exposure of infectious patients to health care professionals. Kaiser Health News reported on March 9, 2020 that the unprotected exposure to a single coronavirus patient led to the quarantine of 200 hospital workers in Vacaville, California. The medical community is reenergizing its attention on how telemedicine can be used to keep low-risk patients away from health care providers and costly clinical care, while directing the most infectious and vulnerable to proper treatment. “The use of telemedicine is going to be critical for management of this pandemic,” said Dr. Stephen Parodi, an infectious disease specialist and executive with The Permanente Medical Group.
Telemedicine may not cure coronavirus, but it is vital in mitigating the spread. Whether injured employee, coronavirus patient, or health care provider, young or old, telemedicine can minimize risks, improve outcomes, and reduce medical costs. Necessity is the mother of invention. The good news for the coronavirus pandemic is that one critical invention, telemedicine, is already here, and here to stay.