by Matt Henry
In my fifteen years in the telemedicine industry, this is certainly
the most unique time I have encountered. By virtue of our client telemedicine consultations, we are quite literally seeing the public deal with the COVID-19 virus both physically and mentally.
People are sick and wondering if they have the virus. People are scared and dealing with anxiety. From phone, to video, to online messaging we are daily working with individuals as they assess their own situation and ask our doctors and medical providers (eg: psychologists, pharmacists) to help them determine their right next steps.
While there remain many questions about what is ‘next’ in this COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine is proving that it is a key tool in the fight.
Let’s take a brief moment and lay some groundwork. The word ‘Telemedicine’ is a fairly new term for most of us. In short, telemedicine is the process of using digital technology (ex: phone, video, online messaging) to foster healthcare interactions that improve a patient’s health status. As we all can agree, the ‘phone’ sitting in your pocket right now has radically altered the way we do life...including the way we do healthcare. Can we, in good conscience, even call it a phone anymore? What was once only a ‘cell phone’ is now a shopping cart, credit card, bank account, calendar, encyclopedia, phone book, game system, flashlight, camera, and more. Consider, for a moment, that the phone
in your pocket has more than one million times more memory and has 100,000 times the processing power1 of the Apollo 11 spacecraft computer that put humanity on the moon and brought them home.
Within the last decade, this now ubiquitous device has also become a medical clinic and a new frontline defense against COVID-19.
I want to give three examples (all names are pseudonyms) of people utilizing their everyday technology (phones, tablets, laptops) to access telemedicine services in direct relation to this pandemic:
Asia – Stephanie and her husband are missionaries in Asia with their three adolescent children. They were impacted quickly as COVID-19 gained a foothold in Asia and began to spread regionally. Stephanie
used her tablet to login to her telemedicine account and securely message back and forth with telemedicine physicians in America. This asynchronous interaction was an important convenience as it eliminated the time change issues involved with live communication. Over the course of a couple weeks, Stephanie and her husband were able to work with the telemedicine physicians to better understand the complexities of the situation and make the best decisions for their family.
Washington – Alex lives in Washington state and has been monitoring the virus closely since it first arrived in the US. His location was one of the first areas in America to be impacted by COVID-19. As a precaution, Alex began working remotely from his home. He began feeling poorly and turned to his telemedicine service for help. He initiated a first available video consultation and within 30 minutes was having a real time video consultation through his laptop. Based on his symptoms, the physicians felt that Alex was experiencing a common cold. Since that initial consultation, Alex has stayed in touch via messaging and the physician team has helped him treat his symptoms, which continue to be assessed as a common cold.
“As we watch COVID-19 unfold, telemedicine is rightfully getting a lot of attention. Regardless of your location, the technology in your pocket is now a lifeline to medical experts. The doctor has come to you.”
New York – Vanessa works and lives in New York City. She rides the subway every day. She began feeling poorly and called the toll free number for a telephonic consultation while she was at work. Within
40 minutes she was on the phone with a physician. The physician used the most current COVID-19 triage protocols and determined that Vanessa may be infected. She was directed to immediately leave her place of work, find the closest place where she could be tested, and quarantine herself in her apartment until she had results. Vanessa tested positive and has been put under the care of a local physician while she manages her symptoms and recovers.
As we watch COVID-19 unfold, telemedicine is rightfully getting a lot of attention. Regardless of your location, the technology in your pocket is now a lifeline to medical experts. The doctor has come to you. Consider these quick points of how telemedicine is uniquely positioned to fight against this pandemic:
Patients are being efficiently triaged prior to accessing in-person medical facilities
Healthy users are able to treat routine health issues and avoid COVID-19 exposure
Rural and international patients have a medical provider access point
Telemedicine physicians are staying productive by reducing their exposure
During this historical pandemic, telemedicine is helping patients make better health decisions and more efficient use of healthcare resources. It is a valuable complement to the irreplaceable face-to-face relationship of a physician and patient. As the globe continues working together to combat COVID-19, let us be grateful for the ways technology is giving us help...but let’s be even more grateful for the men and women healthcare professionals putting it all on the line and tirelessly working on behalf of their patients.
1Graham Kendall. (2019, July 2nd) Your Mobile Phone vs. Apollo 11’s Guidance Computer. Retrieved from https://www.realclearscience.com/ articles/2019/07/02/your_mobile_phone_vs_apollo_11s_guidance_comput- er_111026.html