Telemedicine innovation, use growing during pressure of COVID-19 spread

Posted at 5:24 PM, Mar 27, 2020

COVID-19 is presenting many challenges for the U.S. healthcare system. To combat the problems and fears some might have, healthcare facilities are having to adapt quickly to telemedicine and rely more on technology, just like other industries.

"All of a sudden, we're in the middle of a pandemic, and I need to figure out how am I going to take care of my wellness patients and sick patients," Dede Chism, a nurse practitioner and executive director of Bella Health + Wellness, said.

Chism said the idea of telemedicine came about when she was trying to decide who needed to go in and who didn't.

"We launched telemedicine overnight," Chism said.

She said within ten days of launching, over 50 percent of their patients were taken care of via telemedicine visits.

Bella Health + Wellness is not alone, and health systems have been leaning more heavily on telemedicine and conducting appointments through HIPAA-compliant video chat as the nation deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The role of telemedicine is several-fold," Dr. Alexander Mason, a neurosurgeon and Medical Director for Specialist Telemed said. "It's allowing specialists to connect with patients both in the hospital but also in clinics and at home."

Dr. Mason said Telemed allows the sick people to stay home and not get others sick.

"This has been a very, what I would describe as linear progression up until COVID-19," Dr. Mason said. "What we see now is an overnight acceptance of that."

Dr. Mason explained that telemedicine had been around for decades.

"What's changed there for us in the last five years is increasing availability of good high-quality technology both software and hardware," he said. "We see the ability for telemedicine to shine, not only in the traditional three specialties of neurology, psychiatry, and pulmonary critical care but also in a huge number of other specialties in the inpatient and outpatient space."

However, telemedicine isn't for every type of doctor's visit.

"Telemedicine can not and should not be used for every patient and in every clinical scenario," he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said telehealth had grown exponentially since the late 1990s, predicting it will be a $30 billion corner of the healthcare market by 2020.

"I think patients are going to feel a lot more comfortable reaching out via camera if we're able to do this and proof of concept," Dr. Nick Tsipis, an ER physician at Swedish Medical Center and Chief of ER telemedicine for CarePoint Health, said. He sees firsthand how coronavirus is impacting the emergency room,

"It can keep folks in areas that are most safe for them by using telemedicine. That's one of our primary applications for it," Dr. Tsipis said.

Which is just how Dede and Bella Health are using telemed -- to help their patients feel comfortable.

"One of the things that have risen amid this virus is gratitude," Dede said. "So much gratitude that we've instituted telemedicine that they can see us, and they know we are seeing them."

"The innovation is what we're seeing is both physician acceptance, patient acceptance, and payer/government acceptance," Dr. Mason said.

Dr. Tsipis says he hopes telemed will take on more of role if after the pandemic is over

"When this is over, physicians will feel more comfortable in an expanded scope of telemedicine as well as a better understanding of several different platforms," Dr. Tsipis said.