Hospitals, medical and health centers ideally should be the places the sick and ill alike visit for succor and treatment but with the ravaging COVID-19, shouldn’t we start considering telemedicine? The World Health Organization (WHO), governments, medical practitioners, and health workers around the globe have all been calling for remote working and far-reaching social distancing among other measures as a way of trying to contain COVID-19 surge.
A visit to a hospital clearly depicts the reason why you should totally avoid it now unless it’s absolutely impossible to do otherwise. Usually, our hospitals are filled up with patients and caregivers who are not medical practitioners but have simply come to help them in revitalizing the patients, all these people are usually in proximity with the patients, where bacteria and viruses can easily be transmitted.
Since it has become imperative that a visit to the hospital these days can be a sure way of contracting COVID-19, the most obvious measure to turn to urgently is telemedicine. Telemedicine which is also known as telehealth or e-medicine is all about digitally and remotely delivering healthcare services, which include examinations and consultations by the use of telecommunications infrastructure.
With telemedicine, patients can reach out to health care providers for evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment without necessarily doing an in-person visit. Patients are able to communicate with medical practitioners from remote areas such as their homes by using their own personal technology or by visiting a dedicated telehealth kiosk.
Whether you’ve contracted COVID-19 or not, you don’t need to visit a hospital until the health workers deem it absolutely necessary. From your home, you can undergo a typical telemedicine exam just by downloading an app such as LiveHealth or calling a telemedicine number.
In normal climes, these should be provided by your primary care physician’s office or your employer as part of the normal health benefits. The result of your examination usually based on your medical history and symptoms will determine if you need to be connected to a clinician and what type.
Your clinician now has to determine the next line of action which could be any of taking over-the-counter medication, fill a prescription, go to a hospital for tests as may be the case for a COVID-19 patient, schedule a follow-up appointment, or send the patient to an isolation center.
You have the opportunity of using any of these three basic telemedicine channels to reach across to your clinician:
- Interactive telemedicine/telehealth – This will allow you and your physician to communicate promptly and in real-time. You can do it preferably from your home though there are designated medical kiosks that can serve the purpose. Means of interactions could be via telephone conversations but the best method is through the use of video conferencing software that complies with HIPAA regulations.
- Remote patient monitoring, known also as telemonitoring, will allow you to be monitored from your home using mobile devices that collect data about temperature, blood sugar levels, blood pressure or other vital signs.
- Store-and-forward, known also as asynchronous telemedicine, your healthcare provider can use this means to share your information with other relevant bodies and the information that could be shared in this form could be lab results, scans, and X-rays.
COVID-19 is really bringing telemedicine to the front burner, apart from the fact that it’s relatively cheaper for you and your physician, it goes a long way to enhance social distancing. It is also a time-saving way for you to interact with your clinician for minor and non-urgent medical needs rather than visit a primary care physician’s office or emergency department where you can be susceptible to the virus.
In the U. S. for instance, telemedicine has got some legal backing many states have promulgated laws that make the practice a lot easier. Also, federal health regulators are exploring ways to extensively grant Medicare reimbursements for telemedicine services which will go a long way to boost the battle against COVID-19.
What is expected, however, is that governments around the world should put in place such provisions if the war against the virus is to be sustained.
Advantages of telemedicine
Some benefits you can derive from telemedicine include:
- Convenience: Even from your workplace, you can easily get in touch with your clinician, there is no more need for you to take out time away from your work especially if you have not started working remotely. Since you will be doing it right from your home based on social distancing, you don’t need to pay the extra cost for transportation.
- Ease of accessibility: If you are in the rural area and due to COVID-19, you can’t access your clinician even if you need special services, such as mental health treatment or post-surgery follow up, telemedicine will afford you the opportunity you need without the need to travel long distances for an in-person visit.
While you enjoy some of these benefits, providers are also in for some benefits, and they include:
- Reduced cancellations: It’s commonplace to have providers cancel appointments even at the last minute, this is scenario telemedicine can take along in its stride. All it requires is for the provider to place a call to the patient or the other way round.
As with any technology, you must bear in mind that there could be lapses on which bad elements in the society may want to capitalize on to wreak havoc. One of these areas that can be of potential consequences is cybersecurity.
Based on the fact that you must have a lot of data transmitted electronically, you must endeavor to protect your vital information from falling into the hands of cybercriminals, Healthcare organizations are seen as juicy areas by hackers for the purposes of launching attacks.
Integrating AI into the telemedicine technology
With the scourge of COVID-19 still on the very high side, it will be expected that more people will want to turn to telemedicine which is the best option now for the safety and welfare of everybody. This situation may want to overwhelm providers but the good news is that we are steadily experiencing more integration of AI in healthcare, this will also spill over into telemedicine.
It will not be out of place to imagine telemedicine chatbots being the initial contact you may have to discuss symptoms with during a smartphone video call and from what AI is able to deduce from the discussion, you can be given some recommendations or referred to an actual physician.