Expanding Access to Care During Natural Disasters with Telehealth Services
How to Make Sure Patients Receive Care During Extreme Weather Conditions
From massive hurricanes like Harvey and Irma to extreme flooding and dangerously low temperatures, severe weather can prevent patients from accessing the medical care they need. During these kinds of situations, going outside and making the trek to the local doctor’s office or emergency room may no longer be an option. Even ambulances may have trouble accessing patients in areas that have been affected by a natural disaster. Patients may be forced to stay in their homes for days or weeks until the disaster has passed and it’s safe to go outside.
But telehealth is changing the way patients access medical care, particularly in emergency situations. During a natural disaster, patients can access telehealth services without leaving their homes. Learn more about how telehealth is expanding access to care in the face of extreme weather.
Accessing Medical Care During a Medical Emergency
During a natural disaster, patients may be unable to leave their homes in order to access the care they need. Those seeking medical care may have been injured during the storm or they may be dealing with a chronic condition, both of which may merit immediate medical attention.
Earlier this year, the Midwest experienced a “life-threatening artic blast” driving temperatures down to the negative teens and below. During the storm, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency, urging people to stay indoors and limit their exposure to the elements as much as possible. She also urged residents to check on children, older neighbors, and pets in the area. During this time, going to the doctor’s office may have been unthinkable for some MI residents, especially children and older individuals that struggle with extreme temperatures.
Who Needs Care During a National Emergency?
A recent study analyzed 2,000 telehealth visits during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017. 63% of these visits represented first-time telehealth users. Patients using telehealth services typically accessed care three to six days after the end of the emergencies.
During the aftermath of the storms, chronic conditions accounted for 7% of telehealth visits, compared to 5.7% of patients nationally. This suggests that patients with chronic conditions may need more medical attention during a natural disaster. 6% of hurricane victims used telehealth services for health advice, counseling, or a medication refill, compared to 3% of patients nationally. Again, the need for these services seems to increase during natural disasters.
How Telehealth Can Make a Difference
Telehealth allows patients to access medical care without exposing themselves to the elements or finding transportation. Patients can access health advice, counseling services, and request medical refills using their computer, smartphone, or tablet without leaving their homes. Healthcare providers can then distill important information to their patients regarding their medical conditions, such as where to find help, whether it’s safe to go outside, and how to treat their symptoms from home. In an emergency, the healthcare provider may call for an ambulance. But if it’s not an emergency, care providers can help their patients manage their symptoms until help becomes available.
Telehealth can also reduce unnecessary emergency room visits during natural disasters and emergency situations to reduce overcrowding, long wait times, and possible exposure to germs and illness. Studies show around 30% of ER visits are non-urgent. Between 13.7% and 27.1% of these visits could be treated at another facility, such as urgent care and retail clinics. Redirecting these ER visits could save the industry around $4.4 billion. A study of 1,500 older adults shows that telehealth can eliminate around 20% of ER visits.
Patients dealing with a medical emergency or managing a chronic condition during a natural disaster can use telehealth services to manage their symptoms, complete routine processes like medication refills, and consult with a healthcare professional to determine if a trip to the ER is necessary. This reduces wait times, eliminates possible germ exposure, and keeps patients in their homes if going outside is no longer an option.Contact InTouch Health today to learn more about using telehealth during a natural disaster.