Since the coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, China five months ago, it has made its way into over 100 countries, infected over 1,500,000 patients, and has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization.
Coronavirus, or COVID-19, differs from more common contagious viruses such as influenza for two reasons: First, it is markedly more contagious, and second, the lack of herd immunity makes it significantly more dangerous.
For those reasons, along with many other factors, the medical community has struggled to continue serving patients, both those with a COVID-19 diagnosis as well as other diagnoses that make those patients particularly vulnerable to the virus.
You’ve likely read news articles about the workforce making efforts to encourage and support remote work to mitigate the spread of the virus, and several large conferences, including HIMSS in the health IT world, have canceled this year for the same reason.
Similarly, many state and city governments have issued shelter-in-place orders asking residents to stay in their homes and only leave for essential reasons.
Cancellations are happening on a smaller scale as well. According to a patient survey* we conducted in March, 45% of patients said they had already canceled an upcoming medical appointment or intended to cancel due to COVID-19.
In terms of providing treatment, these cancellations represent a new obstacle doctors are now facing to deliver care both to new patients and to regular patients with chronic conditions. On top of that, appointment cancellations have a big impact on independent medical practices’ revenue and reimbursements.
According to Dr. Stephen Parodi, an infectious disease specialist and executive associated with Kaiser Permanente, “The use of telemedicine is going to be critical for management of this pandemic.”
There are several specific benefits that make telemedicine an ideal solution to address the threat of COVID-19:
Telemedicine allows care to be delivered remotely, preventing exposure to germs.
Telemedicine is not a new technology, so there aren’t bugs to work out.
Telemedicine improves the patient experience, so it will continue to be valuable after COVID-19 passes.
Obviously, this is the big one. By allowing patients and doctors to conduct appointments via videoconferencing, patients aren’t required to leave the comfort of their homes in order to obtain care.
Healthcare professionals have known for a while now that patients are more likely to contract an illness after visiting a doctor’s office because that’s where sick people go, and the threat is compounded with coronavirus. Telemedicine saves the day by allowing treatment to be delivered without breaking quarantine or requiring potentially contagious patients to gather in one place.
Telemedicine has been around for years in various forms and functions, so the technology has gone through plenty of iterations to become the telemedicine software of today. When providers look at certified telemedicine systems, they can generally expect to see these common features:
Videoconferencing: Using video hardware (such as built-in cameras on laptops or webcams), doctors and patients can conduct exams remotely.
Instant messaging: Doctors and patients can communicate in real time via text over chats before, during, or after exams.
Virtual waiting room: Creates an online queue where patients can wait for their scheduled appointments to begin without interrupting other video conferences.
Clinical documentation: Doctors can take notes and keep charts on patients within telemedicine software systems.
Billing: Users can collect and verify patients’ insurance information as well as process payments.
In February, we ran a patient survey** of nearly 1,000 respondents in the U.S. specifically asking about telemedicine awareness and preferences. The most compelling stat we found was that 84% of patients are more likely to select a medical provider who offers telemedicine over one who does not.
Additionally, and more relevant to the current COVID-19 crisis, we found that over half of patients prefer telemedicine appointments to seek treatment for cold-like symptoms over in-person appointments.
Keep in mind that this survey was run in the early weeks of coronavirus reaching the U.S., so this represents how patients feel about telemedicine outside of the context of COVID-19. With the increased threat of contamination and exposure to COVID-19, it’s safe to assume that even more patients are in favor of telemedicine over in-person medical care.
Doctors who invest in this software today will not only have a better approach to addressing coronavirus, but they’ll be better prepared to serve their patients in the future as well. If you’re an independent practice interested in exploring more telemedicine benefits, start by exploring our comprehensive catalog of telemedicine products.
This article references two surveys, both conducted by GetApp in 2020.
*The first, “COVID-19 Survey,” was conducted via Amazon Mechanical Turk in March 2020 and involved nearly 1,000 respondents all based in the United States. The number of respondents varied by question.
**The second survey, “Master Patient Experience Survey 2020,” was conducted in February 2020 also using Amazon Mechanical Turk and involving 1,000 respondents. Screening questions were used in this survey to narrow the number of respondents down to those with relevant histories and experiences.
The questions in both surveys were worded to ensure each respondent fully understood the meaning and topic at hand. The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.