The grey coronavirus-cloud that's descended upon the world hasn't left many wondering about its silver linings, but telemedicine may be the one exception. Once considered to be a technology employed only in exceptional circumstances, it has now gone mainstream with physicians making virtual home visits from all over the country.
It's a brave new world that creates opportunities for both patients and providers to improve both access and quality of care. Using technology already widely available in people’s homes and places of business, patients can now see their practitioner without always having to attend a clinic. Treatment can be given within those meetings, and follow up services, such as blood tests, can be completed by a tech who makes home visits.
Dr. Emil Baccash, a Brooklyn-based geriatrician, believes that telemedicine will play an essential role in the future of healthcare. Within the confines of a virtual visit, he recently diagnosed a patient with a likely rotator cuff injury after asking them to move their arm into several positions. While an MRI will be required to confirm the diagnosis, the patient can attend video sessions with a physical therapist who can recommend exercises to alleviate pain.
Baccash also points to the power of dialoguing with a patient. He points out that medical school teaches doctors that a person's medical history is 90 percent of the information needed – the final 10 percent is the actual physical exam. More time listening to patients who can tell providers what's happening for them is critical for an accurate diagnosis. People forced to wait in a crowded medical office long past their appointment time to see their doctor can feel rushed and stressed – those in their own homes less so.
Before the pandemic, many viewed telehealth as a frill – not as a necessity. The coronavirus flipped this concept on its head, and many are approaching it differently. It's a strong evaluation tool for things like environmental assessments – are their physical hazards within the home of a mobility-challenged individual? Telemedicine is also an essential part of a treatment plan for those living in rural communities - a virtual doctor's visit is now no further than a patient's computer. Even if the patient is located close to their providers, telemedicine appointments are a good option for those with chronic healthcare problems. Digital health consultations can cut down on the amount of time needed for frequent in-person meetings.
"Telemedicine is not a substitute for seeing and physically examining a patient," said Dr. Baccash. “But there are some patients, especially elderly patients, who can’t get out of their house. I can talk to them and look at their problem on my computer… and enter it directly into their medical record. If a blood test is needed, I can have a lab technician come to their house.”
While seeing people in-person won’t be going away anytime soon, many are hoping that telemedicine will continue to be mainstream once the coronavirus concerns subside.