As Covid-19 cases rise across the country, we are continuing to see the important role that telehealth can play in our healthcare system, particularly during emergencies. While the public health emergency caused by the pandemic is unique in that it does not result in the destruction of infrastructure, the benefits of telehealth could still be applied in other emergency situations.
The New England Journal of Medicine conducted an interview with Dr. Judd Hollander, associate dean for strategic health initiatives at Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, on how health systems have used telemedicine services during the Covid-19 pandemic. He discussed how telehealth has played a role in the delivery of care during the pandemic, including providing routine care, triaging emergency care, maintaining ongoing care, screening for COVID-19, providing inpatient care, and maintaining medical staffing levels.
Providing Routine Care
Providers can use telehealth to deliver care to patients who are experiencing non-Covid-19 conditions. Appointments of this type could range from an injury to a non-Covid-19 illness. Telehealth enables the provider to have appointments with patients and address their concerns without risking exposure to Covid-19 that would come with an office visit. It also helps to avoid unnecessary urgent care and emergency department visits during the pandemic.
Triaging Emergency Care
Telehealth can be utilized to assess and triage patients before they arrive in the emergency department (ED). Take Project ETHAN (Emergency Telehealth and Navigation) in Houston, Texas, for example. The program (in place before the pandemic) allows emergency room physicians to connect via telehealth with patients in their homes. This direct connection with a provider has resulted in a reduction in the number of unnecessary ED visits.
Maintaining Care for Patients with Chronic Conditions
Patients with chronic conditions require ongoing care to manage their conditions. Using telehealth, providers can maintain continuity of care with these patients. With remote patient monitoring devices, providers can even keep track of important vitals, like blood pressure. Once again, being able to provide this care remotely reduces the risk of exposure to COVID-19, which is especially important for a patient who are in a higher risk category.
Screening for COVID-19
Screening patients for COVID-19 without having to schedule an office visit to reduce exposure for both the patient and the provider. Providers can screen patients for symptoms, refer to testing as needed, and provide guidance on quarantine protocols.
Providing Care to Hospital Inpatients
Telehealth enables providers to conduct virtual rounds using tablets and other technology. Family members be virtually connected so they can be “present” when a doctor is in the room and providers can conduct video consultations, as necessary.
Maintaining Medical Staffing Levels
One of the fears during the pandemic has been a patient load that exceeds staffing levels. Telehealth allows physicians who are quarantined at home, but well enough to work to continue to provide care. By protecting providers from exposure to COVID-19, telehealth helps preserve the workforce and the personal protective equipment that is so important during the pandemic.