Telemedicine and the Coronavirus
Yes they are related. Telemedicine, or the use of remote audio-visual technology to provide medical care has been around for years. It probably got its first start when smaller rural hospitals used remote radiologists to interpret x-rays, CTs, and MRI studies during the middle of the night or on weekends when local radiologists were unavailable. The slow growth of the provision of medical services in this manner got an injection of steroids from the Coronavirus pandemic. Today, every healthcare provider of any level of sophistication is pushing Telemedicine. Nancy Agee, President and CEO of Carilion Clinic, has publicly stated that within a week of shutting down all nonessential medical visits and procedures due to the Coronavirus, Carilion doctors completed about 11,000 video chats and calls. Teladoc, the largest Telemedicine company in the U.S., which provides patients with 24/7 access to doctors, saw a hundred percent increase in virtual doctor’s visits from the first week of March to the first week of April in 2020. To accommodate this increase in visits, the company doubled its roster of doctors from three thousand to six thousand and includes internists, dermatologists, dieticians, pediatricians, and psychiatrists. The platform now handles twenty thousand visits a day. Prior to the pandemic, virtual doctors had to be licensed in the state that the patient called from. That is no longer the case during the pandemic and I doubt we will ever return to the previous rules. Telemedicine is growing fast and is here to stay.
Telemedicine can be good and it can be bad. The good parts are pretty obvious. No one wants to wait weeks or months to see a doctor. No one wants to drive 2 hours to see a cardiologist, gastroenterologist or neurosurgeon. Many medical problems are relatively minor, uncomplicated, and can be diagnosed and treatment order via an audio-visual hookup. The American Telemedicine Association lists the benefits to include: improved access to expert health care, especially in less-populated areas; reduced or controlled costs due to increased efficiency, better management of chronic diseases, shared staffing, reduced travel times and shorter hospital stays; and equal or even better quality of care, especially in services such as mental health and intensive care.
Telemedicine can be bad. First, it is somewhat difficult to conduct a thorough physical examination of the patient. Many doctors believe that 90 percent of figuring out a patient’s problems comes from a thorough review of their history and current symptoms but 10 percent still comes from a “hands on” examination – you cannot do a belly exam via video. Second, what about patients with technological limitations….like a high percentage of the elderly who may not be comfortable working with a laptop computer? Third, what about those patients who do not have access to the internet or sufficiently fast internet? Those folks get left out.
Want to know what the healthcare providers in Virginia have to say? Check out the following links for statements from the 3 largest healthcare providers/hospital organizations in our area of Virginia:
Carilion Clinic’s information on Telemedicine (Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, Carilion New River Valley Medical Center, Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital, Carilion Stonewall Jackson Hospital, Carilion Tazewell Community Hospital:
Ballad Health’s information on Telemedicine (Bristol Regional Hospital, Dickenson Community Hospital, Johnston Memorial Hospital, Lonesome Pine Hospital, Mountain View Regional Hospital, Norton Community Hospital, Russell County Hospital:, and Smyth County Hospital:
Lewis Gale Medical Center’s information on Telemedicine (LewisGale Hospital Alleghany, LewisGale Hospital Montgomery, LewisGale Hospital Pulaski: