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Telehealth in the Midst of the Covid-19 Crisis

Going by historical evidence, at least once in a generation, a global pandemic arises to inflict havoc on an unsuspecting and defenceless world. In the last two decades, the coronavirus-associated acute respiratory disease known as Covid-19 has been the third recorded spill-over of an animal coronavirus to humans, ending in a global pandemic.

Recent contagions such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS, 2003) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS, 2012) were confined to specific regions on the globe. And so, they were of little concern to medical practitioners elsewhere because their patients were not exposed to the pathogen. 

Warning Signs & Ensuing Chaos

But with Covid-19 affecting people across the planet, concern about this new virus has truly gone global. Medical experts and scientists have been quietly warning us about a pandemic for years now, and 2020 has shown how our time has run out.

Our primary response to the pandemic was to slow down its spread to avoid inundating our healthcare system with coronavirus patients. But the infection is proving harder to control than SARS, with 10 times as many cases in a quarter of the time. Hospitals are particularly vulnerable, with a significant portion of cases in China and Washington state in the US occurring due to hospital-related transmission.

In many countries, the fear that medical facilities would be overrun with Covid-19 cases has come to be partially true. This has limited doctors’ ability in treating patients infected with the virus. Further, it has also prevented uninfected people suffering from chronic or life-threatening conditions from obtaining the appropriate treatment in hospitals.

As a respiratory virus, Covid-19 puts patients who are already suffering from morbidities such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease etc. at greater risk. Just before the beginning of summer, many people with allergic rhinitis also mistook their symptoms for those of Covid-19. In this context, the dissemination of correct, science-backed information to the public is vital if we are to successfully counter the threat. 

Doctors and healthcare workers are particularly susceptible to the SARS-CoV-2 virus owing to their proximity to Covid-19 patients during the course of their daily work. It is of vital importance for them to minimise contact with affected patients through the use of personal protective equipment (PPEs) and other means.     

Telehealth to the Rescue

Telehealth can help patients get the medical care they need while minimising contact between individuals. The technology should be encouraged by clinics and hospitals as a solution to the risk of contracting Covid-19. Although the use of telemedicine has grown in the last 2-3 years, telehealth adoption still requires greater acceptance to make any noticeable social impact. For instance, a 2019 consumer survey revealed that while over 66% of participants were willing to use telehealth, only 8% had actually tried it. 

So, while people may be willing to use telehealth, some barriers need to be addressed. These include: 

  • Habit of patients to typically access healthcare in the way they are used to instead of trying out a new technology such as telehealth. 

  • Preference of seeing their family doctor vis-à-vis a new medical practitioner while accessing telemedicine.  

  • Lack of adequate information about telemedicine and how it can be utilised for their benefit. 

These barriers can be overcome through sustained awareness campaigns explaining the benefits of telemedicine. Employers, hospital systems, health plans and media outlets should also come together in informing people that telemedicine is an efficient alternative to face-time and completely safe when the rules are followed. People need to be made aware of telehealth facilities with simple instructions on how it can be accessed. Helping people access telehealth can also work to reduce the cost barriers in accessing the technology.

Screening Covid-19 Suspects

Home or clinic-based video facilities that can connect doctors with Covid-19 patients should be seriously explored. Since a facilitated health visit could increase the risk of exposure to Covid-19 for both healthcare workers and patients, video interactions could allow the patient to interact with the doctor in an observational assessment setting. This interaction can provide the doctor with a thorough history of symptoms and exposure risk. For instance, the assessment could include:

  • Gauging the patient’s temperature with a home thermometer

  • Observing the patient’s general appearance

  • Calculating the patient’s respiratory rate

  • Observing deep breath and respiration and the use of accessory respiratory muscles, laboured breathing or hindered speech

  • Noting the presence of dry or productive cough

  • Viewing the oropharynx and evaluating the presence of enlarged or absent tonsils or lesions

  • Assessing for the presence or absence of prominent lymphadenopathy

By using their judgment, doctors can assess whether the patient should be tested for Covid-19. Senior citizens and those with chronic medical conditions may need to be given higher priority along with those who have engaged with corona-positive patients within a fortnight. 

Doctors can also direct the patient to an appropriate facility for testing. Also, home testing could be arranged if the patient is acutely ill and needs to be transferred to the nearest emergency department. Just like in a standard face-to-face setting, appropriate local reporting authorities can also be contacted based on the assessment of the virtual observation.

Managing Chronic Conditions Through Telehealth

At a time when social distancing and lockdown protocols are in place, telemedicine can also be used to manage ongoing chronic diseases. Patients with immunodeficiencies and asthma who are particularly susceptible to Covid-19 stand to benefit most. 

A pandemic—while being a sad and tragic occurrence—could be viewed as an opportunity to rediscover the virtues of telehealth and promote the setting up of infrastructure designed to encourage its use. In a post-Covid-19 world, telemedicine can continue to be used and enhanced in ways of providing more convenient, cost-effective care to patients. It could help patients and doctors prepare for the next pandemic that could emerge.

Taking Advantage of Shifting Perceptions

Given that patients today do not have access to specialty healthcare, or the ability to visit the doctor in person, implementing a virtual care programme can help you swiftly diagnose and prescribe a treatment plan in virtual real-time. 

As a means to rapidly respond, treat and minimise exposure, a comprehensive telehealth system could be the answer to provide you with high-quality patient-centric virtual care regardless of patient case and clinical setting. You could initiate a virtual care anytime and anywhere and deliver specialty care just as you would in a face-to-face setting. 

Using a telecare system designed for a multitude of environments and use cases can ensure your patients have access to your services while ensuring you have one scalable platform that can connect you with your patient regardless of their setting.

Interested in having your own telehealth platform? Book a free product demo or call 1860-123-1233 for help.