The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruption in all facets of life. Many people have become isolated, unable to reach their doctors. While most medical offices have reopened for patients, many patients do not feel comfortable being seen in the office. Online technologies have stepped in to connect patients and doctors, as well as helping doctors communicate with one another.
Dr. Eric Fishman, a vascular surgeon from New York City, explores the ways in which online technologies have helped doctors and patients connect during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many patients have preferred to conduct their appointments from the safety of their own homes. Telehealth systems have become popular with doctors and patients alike.
The advantages of telehealth systems include improvement of care delivery. Patients who are treated through telemedicine experience fewer hospital admissions and re-admissions, are more likely to spend fewer days in the hospital and are more engaged in their healthcare.
Telemedicine also reduces costs. This comes in handy because most doctors’ offices carry a high overhead, with many support staff required to get the job done. With telehealth systems, many of the functions of support staff are automated by the software, meaning that fewer people are needed in the office.
Telemedicine also supports the building of healthy working relationships with patients. Strong doctor-patient relationships are associated with better outcomes and lower costs for everyone.
Though telehealth systems can certainly help to keep doctors and patients connected, there are many cases where in-person appointments are absolutely necessary. Vascular surgeons like Dr. Eric Fishman need to see the majority of their patients in the office, though telehealth can be useful for introductory appointments, follow-ups, and education.
Telehealth systems that have become popular in the time of COVID include Mend, Doxy.me, AMC Health, swyMed, and Teladoc.
One of the major advantages of Mend is that it requires no software downloads. This means that it is more accessible to patients who may not have the ability to download software or navigate a complex package. Mend is also fully integrated with electronic health record systems. It incorporates a self-scheduling system for follow-up appointments, significantly reducing the patient no-show rate.
Doxy.me is another platform that does not require a software download, making it ideal for less technologically savvy patients and doctors. The advantage of Doxy.me is that it is very easy to implement. It is mobile-friendly and works on all major browsers and smartphones.
AMC Health takes telemedicine to the next level by integrating it with remote monitoring systems. AMC Health is able to monitor hypertension, heart failure, COPD, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. The system uses Bluetooth connected devices to feed data directly to the medical office. This is useful when monitoring patients’ health in real-time and providing clinical recommendations for their care.
swyMed’s parent company, swyMe, has developed its teleconferencing systems over the past several years and has recently entered the medical field. Like AMC Health, the system is able to integrate remote data monitoring. It is used in the mobile telestroke unit at the University of Texas-Houston.
Teladoc provides its own doctors rather than connecting patients with their existing healthcare team. It is a good solution for patients who need simple care for minor ailments or medication refills. The system has been adopted by several health insurance companies.
Future Applications of Telehealth
Even after the COVID pandemic has been resolved, telehealth systems will continue to be useful. Rural and isolated patients will be able to connect with better hospitals and health care providers that are available in their local area. Mental health patients may wish to continue visiting with their providers via telehealth for the foreseeable future since this application of telehealth has the best correspondence to traditional appointments.
Steps for Physicians to Follow to Adopt Telehealth Procedures
Physicians need to understand the basics of telehealth before they implement their own systems. They should become familiar with the rules governing telehealth. During the COVID pandemic, Medicare began to pay telehealth appointments at the same rate as in-person appointments. This removed a major barrier to care.
Physicians then need to decide what level of care they are looking for. If they are general practitioners or mental health clinicians, they may find that a simple video chat program that is integrated with electronic health records is enough to get started. Some doctors want to use remote monitoring tools to keep tabs on their patients’ chronic conditions.
Doctors must make sure that their systems are HIPAA-compliant. Privacy covers appropriate informed consent and the encryption of data. It also includes creating secure rooms that prevent unauthorized access to data.
Meeting Today’s Challenges
As the COVID vaccine rollout continues, it will be possible for patients to visit their doctors without worrying about infection. However, telehealth will continue to be an important part of the medical world. Taking all of the advantages of telehealth into consideration, many physicians may find that they can enhance their practice by adopting these new protocols. Dr. Eric Fishman believes that telehealth has a place in all fields of medicine.
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