Telemedicine in the Age of Coronavirus

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By Dr. Gregg Soifer

A recent survey by Sage Growth Partner (SGP) and Black Book Market Research, revealed that 25% of consumer respondents had used Telehealth prior to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Fifty-nine percent reported they are more likely to use Telehealth services now than previously, and 33% would even leave their current physician for a provider who offered Telehealth access. This is good new for any medical practitioner who embraces Telemedicine.

We have been using Telemedicine in my practice for many years and apart from patient preference and usage, there are several benefits to embracing this technology. Here are just a few:

1. Accessibility. 

Patients do not always have access to transportation, cannot always afford the cost of travel, or simply do not feel well-enough or strong enough to travel to the doctor. This often prevents them from going to their appointments, especially when the appointment is for preventative care. This is especially true for patients living in rural areas where access to a medical facility can mean traveling long distances. Telemedicine removes those barriers, giving patients easy access to a physician, that might otherwise be challenging for them and their family. In fact, Under the CARES Act, there are many provisions that help practices provide more Telehealth appointments. For example, Medicare regulations historically restricted the availability of Telemedicen to patients who reside in rural areas and such services could only be provided by a physician located in an institutional setting. Under the current waivers, Telehealth services can no be provided to patients at any location.

2. Timeliness.

Patients who are sick need quick access to their physicians. However, sick visit appointments cannot always be scheduled for the same day, or even within hours of the worst symptoms. This can lead to a worsening of the patient’s condition. Telemedicine allows for the patient to be easily scheduled into an opening as the video consultation takes significantly less time than in an in-person visit.  

3. Comfort. 

It’s no secret that patients are more comfortable in their own homes. Telemedicine appointments can not only help patients avoid long and frustrating wait times, but patients for whom mobility is an issue – whether due to disabilities or injuries – Telemedine appointments can make the medical consultation vastly more comfortable. It can also be a terrific way for physicians to build stronger relationships with their patients through less intimidating visits. And, in the age of coronavirus where many patients who suffer from chronic illnesses that could put them at greater risk of contradicting the virus, Telemedicine appointments provide an additional layer of safety for patients.

4.  Ease of Use. 

For many consultations, evaluations and follow-up visits, there isn’t always a need for a stethoscope. Instead, the physician can rely more on discussing a patient’s symptoms and observations of their breathing, color, demeanor, comfort and visual examinations such as observing swelling in their feet or legs. Even in these cases where some measurements are needed, such as a finger stick, pulse rates, body temperature and daily weights, patients themselves can assist physicians with this information.   

5. Faster Treatment.

If a patient is feeling sick, the physician can quickly assess their state of well-being through the patient’s symptoms and their appearance. Using this information, physicians make an early assessment of the patient’s condition, and get an initial course of treatment started quickly by prescribing an initial course of medication and other treatments.  Most patient complaints and many of their maladies can be treated during this visit, and the situation resolved. If, however, the patient does not improve, then the recommendation to seek further help ( at a clinic, urgent care, or hospital) will be made on a follow up visit.

Simple well-check visits may take as little as 5 to 10 minutes, whereas a patient not feeling well may take 15 minutes or longer during a normal Telemedicine visit while the physician utilizes other qualifying questions to better understand the patient’s condition. It has often been estimated that a good history — the patient’s story — can usually help physicians diagnose 90% of the conditions. Therefore, Telemedicine is a great tool 95% of the time, and a good tool for the rest of the consultations — as it at least aids you in getting the ball rolling!

It’s no wonder Telemedicine has been embraced by patients and physicians alike. 

Dr. Gregg Soifer is Co-Founder of DocNow.

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