TeleHealth usage has been on the rise for several years. However, it hasn’t caught on as a mainstream healthcare option, for a variety of reasons, especially as it cannot replace the comfort level patients have with physically seeing their doctors, at least today.
After all, that’s how medicine has been delivered for centuries. There have also been regulatory obstacles and technology requirements, though government agencies and healthcare technology providers are helping address both.
But, with the world dealing with a viral coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 4 million people – over a million and a half and counting in the United States alone – and governments worldwide issuing social distancing mandates and ordering schools and non-essential business to close or initiate teleworking strategies, healthcare provision seems set for a rapid increase in the use of TeleHealth Services.
While many providers are increasing their use of TeleHealth capabilities, some are just starting their TeleHealth practices, and still, others are finding new ways to implement it to enable healthcare delivery during this crisis.
Regardless, the COVID-19 outbreak is teaching both healthcare providers and their patients about how TeleHealth can help in crises.
Screening for Covid-19
At the onset of the outbreak, the CDC recommended that patients exhibiting coronavirus symptoms not immediately go to their healthcare providers. Instead, it suggested calling first or setting up a virtual visit, so physicians could identify potential COVID-19 cases and provide specific instructions, including whether to seek treatment or to manage mild cases through home treatment and isolation.
TeleHealth can help emergency responders conduct on-site video chats with physicians, to evaluate patients’ conditions, and determine the best courses of action. This can help reduce the strain on hospitals. Also, it can put ambulances and EMS personnel to be back in service faster, enabling them to help more patients.
Consultations and Physical Examinations
While not all in-person exams can be replaced with virtual technology, common consumer devices can provide valuable information to help physicians obtain common vitals from patients. Fitness trackers can provide data around heart rate, breathing rate, body temperature, and more, to enable Telemonitoring of patients without requiring hospital admission or physician visits.
Mental health patients often require regular treatment to manage their conditions, and the stress of dealing with a disease outbreak and home isolation could cause elevated stress levels or other mental health conditions for anyone. Even though therapists may have canceled in-person appointments, virtual visits – either via phone or video call – can enable them to continue treating patients while following safety protocols.
Because fewer healthcare professionals are needed to manage virtual visits, providers may be able to see more patients, and staff can spend more time on other necessary tasks, including ensuring the cleanliness of on-site facilities for those patients who do need in-person visits.
TeleHealth cannot replace all in-person physician engagements, but there are ways TeleHealth and Remote Patient Management can help improve healthcare delivery efficiency. Even as this current crisis will subside, and it will, new social practices will continue for some time, and many will become a way of life. This makes TeleHealth an increasingly valuable proposition for practices.
After all, the lessons learned during this crisis can help the healthcare system better manage other diseases in the future.
TeleHealth has finally arrived. Teleconsults are on the rise across America, and both patients and physicians are more than happy to look at the virtual option of providing care.
Here is a list of tips to help your physicians ensure that virtual patient visits are as effective as in-person ones.
1. Use a High Quality Webcam - What good is video if it’s not high-quality enough for you to clearly see your patient and any visual symptoms? When patients can clearly see your face, they’ll be more comfortable and respond more positively to the visit.
2. Test out all your equipment before you start - Before you do your first telemedicine visit, check to make sure your volume’s on, the audio is clear, and your camera and microphone are working. You might even want to do a quick check each morning to make sure everything is working properly.
3. Use Good Sound Equipment - Test out the microphone and speakers on your computer and mobile device. If you’re having any trouble getting good audio, get a high-quality microphone and some speakers. Also, remember that if you’re planning to have multiple staff in the room during a telemedicine visit, everyone will need to be heard.
4. Set-Up the Camera at Eye-Level - Whether you're using an integrated or external camera, set it up so that the camera is approximately at eye-level. It is easier to maintain eye contact with the patient and stay engaged during the visit that way.
5. Close Unnecessary Programs - Smooth video streaming requires a lot of bandwidth. So make sure you don’t have too many other programs or tabs open. if possible close out of everything and just have your telemedicine platform open while consulting.
6. Plug in Your Computer or Mobile Device if you can - It's a good idea to always have the devices powered up so that their power doesnt die out in the middle of the visit.
7. Find a quiet space - Wherever you are (office, an exam room, or a home study) make sure the space is quiet and distraction-free. Eliminating distractions and ensuring patient privacy is crucial to a high-quality telemedicine visit.
8. Read the patient complaint beforehand, if possible - Just like any other visit, try to take a minute before starting the visit to read the patient complaint and familiarize yourself with the patient record. That way, you'll be better prepared for the visit and that will make the virtial consult more efficient.
9. Adjust the lighting - Lighting has a big effect on the quality of video. Try turning on the overhead lights and blocking light from windows.
10. Have the support team's number easily accessible - Technical problems do come up sometimes. Write down the support team's number and place it somewhere easily accessible in your workspace. Make sure you share it with your staff as well, so they can coordinate calling for help when you’re busy.
11. Follow the same clinical guidelines you would with an in-person visit - Even if you can't do a physical exam, you can ask good questions and take a thorough history of present illness. While the technology and interaction is different, the key clinical guidelines apply to a virtual visit the same way as a physical appointment.
12. Stay Engaged - Again, treat the virtual visit like you would an in-person visit. Try to maintain eye contact and nod along to show you’re listening. If you need to take notes or look at something, mention that you’re doing so to the patient – they may not be able to see exactly what you’re doing, and taking notes could just seem like you’re distracted or not engaged in the visit.
13. Explain Next Steps - Once the visit's over, thank the patient for doing a virtual visit and explain what they need to do next.
14. Ask for Feedback - This is also a great opportunity to ask the patient what they thought of the virtual visit process, if this was their first one. With that feedback in hand, you'll continue to make your virtual visits more successful!Read More