By Susan Foster
The COVID-19 pandemic altered how healthcare services are delivered around the world. Many primary care and specialty offices have closed to in-person visits, and telemedicine became the primary means of receiving treatment.
According to the CDC, telemedicine visits grew by 154 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic. This staggering statistic shows the lengths to which medical professionals and patients were willing to avoid spreading the coronavirus.
Dr. Peter Deplas explains how telemedicine grew during the pandemic and how it will continue to significantly impact healthcare delivery systems after the immediate effects of COVID-19 have subsided.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is a delivery method that allows healthcare professionals to diagnose, evaluate, and treat patients at a distance. The approach has been used for several years. Still, in the past, it was mainly used to connect patients in rural areas with quality doctors practicing in more populated areas and to connect specialists in surgery, neurology, and other fields to resources they would otherwise not be able to access.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare systems increasingly relied on telemedicine as a primary care delivery method. Many procedures can only be performed in a doctor’s office, but others can be translated into a digital medium quite easily.
Medical Specialities with High Rates of Adoption
One of the medical specialties with the highest rate of adoption of telemedicine is the mental health care field. Mental health professionals can assess whether patients need medication, diagnose their mental conditions, and perform psychotherapy over the Internet.
Many patients have even come to prefer telemedicine over going into a physical doctor’s office for their mental health care. It is unclear how many mental health practices will continue to offer telemedicine as part of their regular course of treatment after the pandemic’s effects have subsided.
Another medical specialty where telemedicine has had a significant impact is physical and occupational therapy. With telemedicine, patients who have been established on an exercise and therapy routine are asked to continue their routine at home, observed by their physical or occupational therapist over the Internet. This delivery method makes it easier to see how patients are functioning in their own homes, as opposed to the artificial circumstances found in a physical or occupational therapy office.
Primary care doctors have also been seeing many patients via telemedicine. Follow-up appointments to check the status of various health problems is possible using telemedicine. Primary care physicians can talk with patients to discover their problems and how they can help them feel better. In many cases, doctors must perform an actual physical exam, but telemedicine works well as a screening tool or a follow-up.
Patient Outcomes with Telemedicine
According to a 2018 article in the Journal of Critical Care Medicine, telemedicine improves patient outcomes in hospital settings. Advanced monitoring, clinical decision support, and life-saving functions are enhanced. Telemedicine decreases the odds of mortality in the ICU from 13.6 percent to 11.8 percent.
Patients are largely satisfied with the care they receive through telemedicine. Dr. Peter Deplas explains that there are, of course, barriers to obtaining telemedicine care due to advancing age, lack of proper Internet access, and lack of a computer or smartphone that can handle a video chat. Doctors are encouraged to make sure that their patients are well-prepared to receive telemedicine services before offering them. As with all care delivery methods, there may be exceptions where a patient must be seen in the office.
Popular Telemedicine Platforms
While many hospital systems have instituted their telemedicine systems, there are popular solutions available to healthcare systems of all sizes. These platforms include vSee, Mend, Doxy.Me, AMC Health, swyMed, and Teladoc. These platforms have different specialties and areas of focus, but they have all been proven to work well in clinical care settings.
The Future of Telemedicine
Even after COVID-19 has released its grip on the world, telemedicine is here to stay. Doctors in many specialty areas have discovered that they can treat their patients with equal effectiveness at a lower cost when using telemedicine. Most patients are willing to try telemedicine since it prevents them from exposing themselves to the coronavirus. They may also enjoy the convenience of not leaving the house and dealing with traffic and parking to see a doctor.
Dr. Peter Deplas understands the importance of telemedicine in today’s medical landscape. He encourages skeptical patients and physicians to explore the benefits of telemedicine. Many doctors may feel that switching to telemedicine would cause a lack of a personal rapport with their patients, but in practice, most patients connect quite well with doctors they see virtually. Telemedicine could be an essential tool in spreading quality medical care beyond major cities and underserved rural areas.
Dr. Peter Deplas wants healthcare providers to know that their patients can be helped significantly by the adoption of telemedicine.