By Dr. Samant Virk
CEO and Founder of MediSprout
When COVID-19 became a household name by the middle of March, no one knew what to expect, or how it might change the way we had become accustomed to doing things. Shelter-in-place requirements and safety precautions have forced people to change their normal routines, especially when it comes to health care.
Over the last two months, many with health concerns quickly discovered a different way of getting medical help – the risk of spreading germs in doctors offices made a video visit with your physician more commonplace. And although many health clinics, doctors and hospitals around the country were already using telemedicine, many more opened up platforms to practice remote diagnosis and treatment. Almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic brought telemedicine into the mainstream and doctors, health care workers and patients are seeing firsthand how beneficial it can be in a health crisis. For certain groups like the elderly or those who are chronically-ill, the ability to see a physician from home, without risking germ exposure lurking in doctors offices and waiting rooms, became critical.
While the need for safety and saving lives during this pandemic has increased our usage of telehealth, we are seeing that it’s capability to address everyday medical needs will make it part of our lives for good. Telehealth has always been a viable solution within our healthcare system, but now we’re looking to telehealth not just for convenience, but for its safety and flexibility. Accessing medical care through online virtual visits has been a much-needed lifeline for both healthcare providers and their patients. Providers, needing to reduce or stop in-person visits completely to prevent the spread of COVID-19, have found that adopting a telehealth solution in their practice allows them to screen patients for illnesses that require additional attention (including coronavirus), refer serious cases for additional care, evaluate patients for prescription medications, and provide follow-up for those already under their care. Many physicians who felt in-person care was the only way to effectively help patients have been pleasantly surprised and are ready to adopt this new reality as a permanent part of their patient care and not just a stopgap or interim measure.
When we built MediSprout, we never imagined the kind of impact it could have on the healthcare industry, physician colleagues, and patients during such an historic and challenging time. To put it into perspective, each week for the last three weeks, MediSprout created and launched a telehealth solution for a major health system in the NY metro area with more than 1,000 individual providers, including administrators and scheduling staff, joining from each hospital. A huge volume of medical offices also joined our platform from individual offices to large single and multi-specialty groups during recent weeks as well. The message to us was clear – telehealth is a lifeline to staying connected to patients and fostering their health and well-being, while keeping those on the front lines safe, and patients secure at home.
Since the beginning of this medical crisis, healthcare providers have learned many lessons about the adoption of telehealth solutions for practices and it’s given us many reasons to be hopeful for its staying power:
- Patients and physicians will use telehealth to still stay connected even in isolation. A patient’s healthcare needs do not end just because we are unable to go to the doctors office. There was skepticism around whether people would actually use telehealth during a time like this to stay connected to their doctors. What we’ve learned is that this is a resounding “yes.” Patients of all ages have quickly adapted to using telehealth services.
- Telehealth is a great way for doctors and patients to connect – we’ve seen the greatest benefit occur when telehealth is used as a tool to improve continuity of care connecting patients to doctors who already know them. The power of telehealth is magnified exponentially when you combine the video/audio connection with the benefits of a past relationship. This in-depth understanding of past medical history and current medical status makes the engagement far more valuable than that of a sterile provider-patient interaction where no relationship previously exists.
- Telehealth provides access to quality medical care no matter where your patients live. For many, including those who can’t afford to travel to the in-person visit, those who live in remote areas with limited access to medical treatment, and even people who live in urban areas who are too ill or too busy to take public transportation, the trip to an in-office medical appointment can be a hurdle too big to cross. With telehealth, we have seen firsthand that location should no longer be a barrier to getting quality medical care.
We have seen the greatest benefit occur when it’s used as a tool to improve continuity of care, connecting patients to doctors who already know them. The power of telehealth is magnified exponentially when you combine the video/audio connection with the benefits of a past relationship, and in-depth understanding of past medical history and current medical status. The engagement becomes far more valuable than that of a sterile provider-patient interaction where no relationship exists. Not only does it add value to the issue at hand, but there is a feeling of reassurance knowing that long-term interests are being considered as well. In the event that specialty help is required, you know that you will be referred to the help you need — preventing frustration and avoiding potentially more urgent issues in the future. What we have seen in all practices is that people’s medical needs outside of COVID-19 do not need to deteriorate if they have a safe, efficient telehealth connection to their doctor, likely preventing what could have been a secondary healthcare crisis if people’s regular healthcare needs were not met.