“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~ Viktor Emil Frankl (1905-1997) Austrian Psychologist and Holocaust Survivor.
Question: How important has telemedicine and the use of technology become to the delivery of health care?
Answer: Before the COVID-19 Pandemic, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 10% of Americans used telemedicine. Healthcare providers and caregivers have their hands full prompting the use of telehealth to expand exponentially in recent months. Providers and patients are better able to exercise caution while being respectful of infection issues. Technology helps arrange, provide and monitor care during this challenging time.
Before the COVID-19 Pandemic, a gradual shift to switch some healthcare delivery from waiting room to living room had begun. Virtual doctor visits for minor ailments, such as allergies or an earache are commonplace. According to Sage Growth Partners, virtual visits hit highs during April 2020, but fell back to below pre-virus levels in June. Findings show that high-risk and immunocompromised people are more likely to use the remote care option. Also, those who have tried it and are comfortable using this technology are likely to continue with telemedicine for future interaction.
As we move forward, caregivers could be more apt to continue using telehealth features. For ongoing physical conditions, we could easily see the use of virtual care grow. Caregivers may find that communicating with healthcare providers remotely on some matters could be more convenient as they juggle responsibilities. A 2016 AARP report found that 43.5 million Americans—or almost 15% of the population—provides care for a loved one, typically while balancing demands of work, and often childcare.
Teladoc, the largest telehealth provider, recently worked with AARP to launch a service for caregivers to access urgent care services for themselves or the person they are caring for, as long as they have legal authorization to act on their loved one’s behalf. At any time, board-certified physicians are accessible by phone, videoconferencing, or mobile app, with three-way visits with the physician, caregiver and patient also possible.
In addition to remote urgent care services, The Cleveland Clinic offers telemedicine follow up for patients with chronic illnesses; such as diabetes. Doctors can monitor a patient’s condition closely while interacting with patients and caregivers. This technology may help determine if there’s an urgent need to visit the emergency room for treatment or not. Caretakers can also receive help with more complex medical tasks, such as dealing with catheters or giving injections. The AARP’s report found the majority of caregivers who handle these tasks had received no medical training. With videoconferencing, a medical professional can demonstrate proper techniques.
Beyond physical care, telemedicine is available for behavioral and mental health care. The Sage Growth Partners survey found that pre-pandemic, 62% of consumers were comfortable with virtual care for physical issues, but only 25% would use this for behavioral health treatment. The COVID-19 Pandemic increased anxiety, domestic violence, along with drug and alcohol use and relapse. Psychiatric referrals are available, and counseling can take place with videoconferencing tools.
As for the future? Wearable devices and fitness trackers already monitor heart rates and sleep patterns. Several newer products and those in development phases are expected to deliver additional information, such as oxygen levels, whether a person’s blood pressure has dropped or if they have heart arrhythmia.
Two limitations to the use of telemedicine are internet access with adequate bandwidth connections, and comfort levels of patients and caregivers in using technology for healthcare needs. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established a $200 million COVID-19 Telehealth Program to assist in making technology more accessible to patients.
Traditional healthcare will continue to evolve while telemedicine enhances the existing structure rather than entirely replacing its foundation. Making generalizations as to what direction telehealth is heading is dangerous. Many individuals are comfortable and at ease with telemedicine and technology, while others are reluctant. The ability and willingness to connect on these levels are evolving; quickly and slowly at the same time. Stay focused and invest accordingly.
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