How the Coronavirus Pandemic Is Driving Demand for Telehealth Services
Healthcare Facilities Are Using Telemedicine to Remotely Connect with Patients During the Outbreak
Demand for telehealth services has been on the rise for decades, but the coronavirus outbreak has dramatically increased usage rates around the United States. Multiple telehealth software and equipment providers have seen a spike in demand for their products and services over the last several weeks.
To limit the spread of the virus, healthcare facilities and individual providers are increasingly using telehealth programs to triage patients from afar, so they don’t feel the need to come into their facility where they may be exposed to infected patients.
Across the country, public officials are urging the general public to stay home. Individuals should first contact their doctor or care provider if they are suffering from flu-like symptoms. Doctors can then use live video and audio to determine whether in-person care is necessary.
The coronavirus pandemic will likely accelerate telehealth adoption rates across the U.S. and beyond. Discover why so many patients and providers are turning to telehealth during the crisis.
Keeping the General Public Safe
COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is extremely contagious and is passed through respiratory droplets. It can lead to flu-like symptoms, including coughing, fever, and shortness of breath. The pandemic has coincided with the tail end of the flu season, and many individuals may not know whether they have COVID-19 or a case of the flu.
Individuals are urged to stay at least six feet apart from one another and only leave their home for essentials or medical care. Individuals over the age of 65 and those with pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, are considered most susceptible to the virus.
Patients of all ages can use telehealth to connect with a local healthcare provider without risking their health by leaving their homes and coming into a nearby facility. This includes patients that may be infected with the coronavirus and those that need regular medical care, including elderly patients and those suffering from chronic conditions.
Providers can use live video and audio to assess the patient’s symptoms, prescribe medication and other treatment methods, direct them to a local hospital or urge them to self-isolate to prevent further contamination. Patients can still get the care they need without potentially exposing themselves to the virus or passing it on to someone else.
Providers can also use digital apps to keep the general public informed. They can send out important reminders and information regarding treatment, social distancing, and accessing care.
Easing Demand on Local Health Systems
Hospitals across the country are quickly filling up with patients suffering from COVID-19. Several major U.S. cities have had to convert storage areas, parking lots, pop-up tents, college dormitories, and other public and private spaces into makeshift hospitals to keep pace with the growing number of infected patients. Healthcare facilities are increasingly running out of space to house and care for both virus and non-virus patients.
Providers are using telehealth to keep the public at home to limit demand for precious resources, including personal protection equipment, hospital beds, and basic supplies such as thermometers and sanitary wipes. By staying home, all types of patients can ease the burden on local health facilities and protect their health at the same time.
Additionally, hospitals and health systems are leveraging advanced telemedicine systems within their facilities to remotely monitor patients infected with COVID-19 who are experiencing more severe symptoms. Using telemedicine within a healthcare facility enables clinicians to monitor, treat, and communicate with patients in isolation, helping to minimize the risk of exposure to care staff.
Increasing Access to Telehealth Services
Around 74% of patients in the U.S. would use telehealth services if given the opportunity, yet many individuals cannot access these services due to limited availability, limited access to broadband services, reimbursement restrictions, and other financial and regulatory hurdles. To increase access to telehealth services, the federal government is easing restrictions on telehealth reimbursement rates.
Under 1135 Waiver, Medicare will now pay for telehealth office, hospital, and other types of visits across the country, including in a patient’s places of residence. A range of providers, including doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers, can now offer telehealth services to their patients. The Department of Health and Human Services is also giving healthcare providers the flexibility to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs. This new waiver is meant to help elderly individuals access telehealth services from the comfort of their own home, so they don’t have to risk exposing themselves to the virus.
State and local governments are working to increase access to telehealth services as well. Thus far, 18 states and the District of Columbia have issued new orders to expand the use of telehealth services during the ongoing pandemic. Some states are waiving Medicare requirements, while others are allowing phone calls in place of live video and audio, especially in areas with limited access to broadband. Individual providers, including mental health professionals and primary care providers that have never used these programs before, are encouraging their patients to use telehealth services to safeguard their own health.
The coronavirus is spurring interest in telehealth all over the country, changing the face of healthcare for both patients and providers. These programs are saving lives in more ways than one. Visit intouchhealth.com/infectious-disease-emergency-solution for more information about telehealth solutions to help combat COVID-19.