The COVID-19 virus has turned many activities we once engaged in occasionally, such as videoconferencing and working from home, into everyday parts of our lives. That’s certainly the case with telemedicine as medical professionals now more readily rely on this tool that allows them to treat their patients while respecting social distancing guidelines to stem the spread of the virus.
Telemedicine, which uses technology such as two-way video, email, smartphones, and other wireless tools to provide medical care remotely, is helping health care professionals more safely treat people who have contracted the virus and those who need medical care unrelated to the virus while freeing hospital space and reducing medical equipment needs.
One of the biggest assets of employing telemedicine in the pandemic is that it allows patients who want to limit the possibility of a COVID-19 infection to be treated from their homes instead of making them visit their doctor’s office or go to a hospital. That helps providers determine who doesn’t require medical care, who can stay at home and be cared for remotely, and who must head to a hospital. This sort of remote triage keeps infections from spreading while allowing patients to receive appropriate medical attention.
Additionally, telemedicine can be helpful for people living in rural and remote areas. Many Pennsylvania residents rely upon their local community hospitals for their health care needs. In a pandemic, the staff and resources could easily become overwhelmed. Telemedicine services offer a relief valve.
Patients diagnosed with or suspected to have COVID-19 need continued monitoring to assess if their symptoms have worsened and require greater medical intervention. Telemedicine allows health care providers to follow patients regularly without face-to-face exposure, which also saves the dwindling supply of masks, gowns, and other personal protective equipment medical professionals must don every time they enter a patient’s room.
Using telemedicine also can help keep the health care system running even when providers and staff members become ill. Providers who contract the virus would be quarantined and unable to work at a time when patients most need them. Telemedicine enables providers with a mild case to continue to see patients remotely, lessening the burden on the health care system.
The use of telemedicine services also has expanded within hospitals, depending upon the level of technology a facility already has invested in. Technology providers report some hospitals are using virtual platforms to screen patients for the virus while others are equipped to deploy telemedicine carts to examine patients from outside their rooms.
During the pandemic, telemedicine also can help patients who develop different symptoms or illnesses—maybe an earache, a sprained ankle, or a burn from cooking. Being diagnosed and treated without leaving home allows them to avoid unnecessary exposure to the virus.
Considering that patients with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, chronic lung disease, and cancer are at high risk of harm or death if exposed to COVID-19, telemedicine plays a major role in keeping patients with chronic conditions monitored and treated from the safety of their own homes.
Check with your doctor, health insurance company, or local health clinics and urgent care providers to see if telemedicine services are available to you.