With social distancing measures in place due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the adoption of telemedicine and digital health practices has become a necessary piece of epidemiological strategy. Utilizing telemedicine, such as calling, messaging or video conferencing a healthcare professional rather than physically visiting their office, has been strongly recommended by Medicare, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to decrease the risk of spread in hospitals and physician’s offices. Guidance from the CDC involves calling a healthcare provider or using available telehealth platforms for guidance on testing, symptom control and discharge. Medicare pays for “virtual check-ins” or the use of online patient portals.

Telemedicine is now at the forefront of healthcare and its benefits are undisputed, especially for high-risk groups and rural communities. The challenges of accessibility and data privacy are still present; however, our current epidemiological strategy could lead to the future widespread adoption of digital healthcare platforms and practices.

What is telemedicine?

Telemedicine includes communicating with a healthcare professional digitally, through video conference or messaging, and having access to medical information through an online portal. Telemedicine services give patients remote access to critical health services, including medical history, advice and prescription information. It’s also crucial in connecting healthcare facilities by providing patient information in an easily accessible digital format. (Check out our blogs on modernizing the electronic health record through effective medical image exchange).

A telemedicine system should be accessible by smartphone or laptop and secure in processing user data. In addition to messaging/conferencing, telehealth systems ideally offer effective scheduling, e-prescribing and payment. Effective use of telemedicine mitigates the need to physically visit a healthcare professional, relieving burdens on both patients and physicians and increasing patient satisfaction.

How can telemedicine “flatten the curve”?

A large piece of the CDC’s strategy is recommending that healthcare facilities begin “leveraging telemedicine technologies and self-assessment tools.” Following this advice can achieve three primary goals. First, it allows for safe social distancing by digitally serving patients at high risk who are self-isolating, sick patients on required quarantine and patients recently discharged from hospital care. As mentioned before, it helps to relieve an overburdened healthcare system by keeping time, energy and resources available for those in desperate need of in-person medical services. Additionally, using digital health platforms keeps patient costs low in an uncertain financial climate by minimizing transportation costs and allowing for caretakers to stay home with children and family members.

Not all healthcare serves physical needs. With the constant anxiety, separation and/or exhaustion inherent to caretaking, self-isolation and financial distress, mental healthcare has also seen a surge of visibility. Mental healthcare, which has by nature excelled in a digital format, has adhered to telehealth recommendations as well. Digital therapy platforms, such as BetterHelp, offer flexible, digital access to licensed therapists and resources for coping with unprecedented emergencies. Mobile apps ranging from simple self-care and meditation to professional therapy sessions and addiction recovery are available for most smartphones (find a good list here).

Telemedicine is now more critical than ever, and the healthcare industry’s trending toward digital platforms has seen a remarkable and sudden increase. Learn more about telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic and check out our services page to see how Ellumen is supporting the digitization of healthcare.