By Samant Virk, MD
March 2, 2020
From influenza to the coronavirus (COVID-19), televisits are an increasingly valuable tool in the fight against the spread of infection. Sick patients get the care they need from the comfort of home and physicians can treat more patients, helping to mitigate the spread of disease without sacrificing quality of care.
Virtual care continues to surge as its use becomes increasingly relevant. As respiratory illnesses and flu overburden medical practices and the possible threat of the new coronavirus looms heavy, practices need alternatives to traditional office visits. Televisits can help protect patients and medical practices by providing patients with easier access to care, reducing the spread of serious infections, and easing burdens on providers by protecting them, providing efficiencies, and giving them more control of their schedules.
Here’s a closer look at why telemedicine is becoming an increasingly indispensable tool:
Telemedicine Provides Patients More Convenient Access, No Matter Their Location
Taking time off from work or school for a doctor’s appointment is inconvenient at best. For many, including those who can’t afford the visit and those who live in remote areas with limited access to medical treatment, the trip to an in-office medical appointment can be a hurdle too big to cross. Yet, without a doctor’s assessment of common symptoms, such as fever, cough and general body aches, patients are unable to distinguish between a common cold, flu and the deadly new virus that is making its way around the world. While there is no known cure for any of these illnesses, they can worsen and become life threatening without proper care and treatment. What’s more, patients can spread the virus to others.
Televisits make it easier for doctors and patients to connect. Patients are more likely to seek care at the first signs of illness when a visit is as simple as scheduling a video chat at a convenient time. Much like they assess patients during a visit at a medical office, urgent care facility or a hospital emergency room, physicians can use screening questions to gather history and symptoms, and oftentimes connect medical devices to the videoconference to collect vital information to help diagnose. Medications can be prescribed and remotely sent to a patient’s local pharmacy. Patients with more serious conditions can be scheduled an in-office visit or referred to specialists. If a serious illness, such as coronavirus, is suspected using CDC clinical criteria and travel history, physicians can direct patients for proper testing, quarantine those suspected of exposure, and notify local or state health departments, quickly and easily.
Virtual Care Reduces Spread of Disease
Respiratory viruses, coronavirus included, are especially difficult to control. Flu vaccines are reportedly 40 percent to 60 percent effective at preventing the flu and there is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus infection. The best way to prevent these infections is to avoid exposure.
Telemedicine reduces the spread of germs in several ways. It allows patients to seek medical care from home, saving them from spreading germs to others, for instance on public transportation, in their doctor’s waiting room, and to the healthcare providers who attend to them. Televisits also aid in prompt detection and lead to effective isolation of potentially infectious patients. Because of the convenience they offer, patients are more likely to follow up with their provider with questions about their treatment or if symptoms persist or worsen, bettering their chances for a complete and speedy recovery.
Telemedicine Eases Burden on Provider Practices
It’s often challenging for physicians’ offices to accommodate all of their patient needs during busy times—such as the late fall to early spring flu season—and think of the potential onslaught they face if the coronavirus spreads throughout the US. Physicians on the front lines bear the burden of increased visit volume and risk getting sick themselves. They need to avoid exposure that could infect themselves, their families and their patients. As providers, they feel a responsibility to their patients, both in caring for their immediate needs and in protecting them from additional exposure from other patients.
Remote visits protect providers and patients, and provide a safe, efficient way for them to connect. Patients can meet with their own doctors, keeping them from resorting to urgent care and hospital facilities that are already stretched thin. Most televisits are about 10 minutes in duration, allowing physicians to assess patients, screen for signs of contagious infections, and document possible affected patients quickly and easily. Many telemedicine solutions work in time filling out insurance paperwork, and eliminate the need for playing phone tag and chasing follow-ups with patients, enabling physicians to spend more time treating patients. Physicians can see more patients, screen for illnesses that require additional attention, and save in-office visits for patients with more complicated needs.
Virtual visits, undoubtedly, offer convenient access to care, save patients and providers time and expense, and help physicians provide care to all who need it. As we continue to battle flu season and keep a watchful eye on rising superbugs, the coronavirus included, televisits will serve us, and our communities, well.
Samant Virk, MD, is CEO and Co-Founder of MediSprout.