Telehealth Takeaways from the COVID-19 Pandemic Response

Telehealth has emerged in the response to COVID-19 as a safe way to treat patients. Find out what the pandemic may mean for the future telemedicine.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unexpected confluence of professional and personal life for us here at Sigmund.

Professionally, there are mental health and addiction treatment facilities all over the country that are navigating these unprecedented times with the help of our EHR.

In a personal sense, the fear and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus situation has been accompanied by an occupational curiosity.

How are care providers communicating with their patients? How many offices are able to electronically prescribe medication

We think about the technical aspects of healthcare by trade, so it can be hard to turn that off during a worldwide health emergency.

The coronavirus pandemic has put extraordinary stress on the world’s healthcare systems. We see the challenges of delivering treatment on a much smaller scale every day. And the response of healthcare providers all over the globe has been nothing short of remarkable.

In addition to the dedication and compassion exhibited by healthcare professionals, innovations in technology have played a huge role in addressing this global health crisis.

In particular, we have noticed the emergence of telehealth in the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of an emergency spending bill, certain federal restrictions were waived, allowing more patients to have more access to remote COVID-19 screenings. This was part of a larger effort to help prevent the spreading of the virus.

Professionals in our field have been wondering what it would take for telehealth to be used on a wide scale.

Though we wish it was under much better and entirely different circumstances, those people may have gotten their answer.

Telehealth: A Closer Look

Telehealth may sound like a brand new technology, but that’s not really the case.

Telehealth, or telemedicine, as a functional capability has been around for years. Doctors have been using it to treat patients remotely quite effectively.

The population using telehealth has been rather limited, though. This treatment option has been mostly pursued by wealthier people for convenience and rural Americans without easy access to healthcare facilities.

The issue has been adoption.

Whether financial or regulatory restrictions, a lingering lack of trust in technology, or just plain habit, providers and patients alike have not rushed to use telehealth.

That may change, though. Never before has the global healthcare system had such demand for remote treatment.

Similarly, many patients may be exposed to telehealth as a treatment approach for the first time during this health emergency.

Considering the early reliance on telemedicine in the COVID-19 pandemic, the question must be asked: what does it mean for telehealth’s role in general health care going forward?

Read our three takeaways from telemedicine’s recent emergence below.

1) Modernizing Medicine

Telehealth – or what you can affectionately refer to as Millennial Medicine. Or Medicine for Millennials. Well, not officially, but you get the idea.

Basically, we think the kids are going to like this one.

Experts in our field predicted that telemedicine would become more prevalent as younger generations take ownership of their healthcare.

The generations that naturally and expertly navigate digital environments are still young, though. As a result, the maturation of telemedicine was expected to be a slow burn.

Parents and older generations may not have had much use, interest, or awareness of telehealth services. Thus, availability to younger generations has been rather limited.

In other words, we were going to have to wait for the kids to grow up.

Telehealth Kids

However, telemedicine is now on the radar of parents all over the world. Video-chatting tools currently offer parents a safe way to get their children screened for COVID-19 symptoms.

Young people around the globe are seeing telehealth for the first time, and there is a good chance they will respond to it. It certainly feels like a natural progression in their world of FaceTime and technological immediacy.

From a timing standpoint, the eldest millennials are achieving adulthood and medical agency right as the COVID-19 pandemic response puts telehealth on the map. This convergence of tech appetite and tech innovation reasons to be a catalyst for the demand for telehealth services during, and after, this world health crisis.

2) New Perspective for Providers

There are also generational factors at work on the provider side.

The COVID-19 emergency will force some healthcare professionals to use telemedicine for the first time. Telehealth arrived pretty late in the game for many established physicians. Doctors and clinicians worked for decades without such an innovation.

We did not expect them to eagerly adopt a new and potentially confusing technology. There were years of training, routine and habits that stood in the way of that. Professionals in our field considered this another situation that would change as younger generations came of age and became doctors.

The coronavirus pandemic has been an unexpected force that is driving doctors who did not previously embrace telemedicine to use the technology.

We have to wait and see if health care professionals of a certain age will pursue telehealth as a treatment approach when the world gets back to normal.

Sometimes, it just takes going through something once to realize it’s not that bad.

Is this the push that older health care professionals needed to appreciate the merits of such a dynamic technology? So far, it certainly is a step in that direction.

Telehealth Doctor

3) Telehealth Infrastructure

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an impromptu stress test for telemedicine on the largest scale possible.

Many providers have encouraged their patients to seek virtual care through telehealth services as a way to help prevent the spreading of the virus.

The telehealth industry had no warning to prepare for this sudden increase in demand. So far, they are definitely feeling the weight of the world’s health systems.

Some telemedicine companies have fared better than others in accommodating the unprecedented volumes of virtual users.

There are cases where the IT infrastructure of telehealth services have crumbled under the pressure.

In the last few weeks, care providers have experienced spotty, crash-prone virtual care technology.

Unfortunate delays and overcrowded virtual waiting rooms have plagued certain telemedicine services. Patients have responded with frustration during these times of high stress. Long wait times have caused patients to hang up before a doctor can get to them, presumably to seek other treatment options.

Other telehealth services were prepared for such an influx of patients from a hardware perspective, but demand is still overwhelming.

In these cases, there simply are not enough doctors to go around. Telemedicine companies are scrambling to recruit hundreds of doctors to meet demands in the coming weeks.

Amid all the uncertainty, we can be sure of two things:

  • The telehealth industry will work tirelessly to provide maximum functionality to care providers in the face of COVID-19.
  • The telemedicine cat is out of the bag.

The demand for virtual care is unlikely to stay at this all-time high forever. However, we cannot imagine it will return to its modest volumes before this global health crisis.

Only 16% of physicians worked at a practice that utilized telemedicine in 2016. In the wake of COVID-19, there is no going back to that.

When the dust settles, we should expect to see:

  • Increased investments in telemedicine companies
  • Increased investments in telemedicine IT infrastructures at healthcare organizations all over the world.

Health IT Infrastructure

What Now?

That sure is the question of the day.

These are very strange times. Anyone who says they have the full answer is probably getting a little ahead of themselves.

As for telehealth, we encourage you to ask your care providers about your virtual options. In the immediate present, seeing a doctor via video-chat is one of the safest ways to get medical attention for all kinds of treatment. The stringent state and private insurance restrictions will be addressed. Once they become more patient-friendly, your access to quality treatment, as well as talented care providers, should increase a great deal.

EHR features like the patient portal have become integral to delivering comprehensive care throughout COVID-19. A standalone telemedicine solution no longer makes the cut. Providers must be able to offer their patients a reliable digital space to engage with their care so that treatment remains seamless and effective.

Matt Prete, Sigmund’s VP of Software Development and Information Technology, recently presented a webinar that examined the true potential of the virtual care environment. He explores a variety of crucial patient engagement solutions that allow providers to deliver thorough and patient-centered care, even under the constraints of the pandemic. If you want to see what a dynamic and exhaustive virtual care environment looks like, you can view his presentation in full by clicking the button below.

Virtual Care Is So Much More Than Telehealth: Embracing all the Tools of the Digital Care Environment

Watch Now!