Increased telehealth use creates calls for its continued expansion among insiders
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Long seen as a pariah of sorts, the practice of telemedicine is here to stay. Blame COVID-19 and social distancing for breaking the outdated resistance to the technology.
Since the shuttering of most of the United States’ nonessential economy in mid-March, most everything has moved to an online version of its former self — so much so that there's even a new condition called "Zoom Fatigue."
Telemedicine continues to expand because of the pandemic, including the use of telehealth, remote monitoring technologies, and wearables. Experts say that the use of these technologies is now a way of life for patients and will likely replace some in-person care.
Michael Snyder, professor and chair of genetics at Stanford School of Medicine during a webinar hosted by FierceHealthcare said:
"What’s powerful about these technologies that they can reach anyone in the world. Sixty percent of the world has a smartphone, including remote parts of the country. We’ll be able to have a heart monitor on every person in the world, including people who are pretty far away from their primary care provider. I think telemedicine is here to stay," he said.
Since March, a Seattle-area health system has monitored 2,400 patients that were confirmed COVID-19-positive or under investigation. One thousand patients are being monitored with remote devices. The technology enables clinicians to "check-in" on patients daily and monitor symptoms, which is critical with an unpredictable virus, such as COVID-19.
Telehealth had been a luxury in rural America, where primary care is still based on the face-to-face visit in the doctor’s office. COVID-19 is helping to build a wave of support for connected health that could well outlast the virus.
In Wyoming, the 12-year-old Wyoming Telehealth Network laid the infrastructure for telemedicine and mHealth programs and averaged a couple of dozen new providers per month into this year. Then, almost 1,900 joined in March alone.
The technology provides significant value for monitoring other conditions, including diabetes and congestive heart failure, experts say.
Humana CEO Bruce Broussard recently said that he expects telehealth to have a lasting impact on how people visit their doctors. Broussard said he could see more healthcare services being performed in the home going forward instead of in hospitals.
Dr. Martin Makary, M.D., M.P.H., a renowned Johns Hopkins health policy expert and surgeon and Fox News contributor, recently wrote in response to the surge in telehealth use: “Embracing telehealth expands access to medical care and improves our nation's health security. Never again should we be caught off-guard by a pandemic that exposes our inadequate health technology system for delivering services remotely. Telehealth increases our country's surge capacity, improves our health security, and addresses geographic disparities to high-quality care.
“Instituting telehealth widely is badly needed right now. Doctors and hospitals have a massive backlog of patients in a holding pattern for routine and even semi-urgent care. This backlog has received little attention from the media, but it is a tsunami that threatens to overwhelm our hospitals and clinics once the infection subsides. Making robust telehealth systems available to all health care professionals would help us quickly serve the people that have been patiently waiting for their care.,” he added.
Telehealth-like technologies such as home monitoring and tele-ICU have been used for years, but payers have not responded with payment support. COVID-19 is changing that.
Across the U.S., physicians must adopt telehealth to sustain their practices and their careers. Now, for many, technology is an avenue of survival and a matter of necessity.
Going forward, most stakeholders believe that the use of telehealth and remote monitoring will continue at higher levels.
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