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Telemedicine is here to stay!

Prior to the current Covid19 Virus pandemic, it took an average of 24 days to schedule a first-time appointment with a physician — a 30 percent increase since 2014, when the average wait time was 18.5 days, according to The 2017 Survey of Physician Appointment Wait Times and Medicare and Medicaid Acceptance Rates.

A 2016 survey funded by the NIH (which analyzed responses from 3,000 patients treated at via telehealth a CVS Minute Clinic) concluded that between 94 percent and 99 percent were “very satisfied” with telehealth, while one-third of respondents preferred the telehealth experience to an in-office doctor visit.

According to the American Telemedicine Association, “Studies have consistently shown that the quality of healthcare services delivered via telemedicine are as good as those given in traditional in-person consultations.”

60% of millennials support the use of telehealth to replace in-office visits. with a population of 83 million, millennials now comprise the largest segment of today’s workforce.

As I write this (July 15, 2020) 13,589,273 people have been infected with the Corona Virus, and more than 584,990 have died across 188 countries where cases have been reported. This pandemic has, in a matter of a few weeks, turned traditional brick and mortar office-based healthcare on its head and has catapulted telemedicine to the forefront of our endeavors to triage and treat vast numbers of patients.

As a consequence, we are seeing the following;

  • Insurance companies are reimbursing for telehealth consults - Aetna announced it will offer zero co-pay telemedicine visits nationally for any reason for the next 90 days for all commercial plans. Humana, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, and others have announced similar expansions of telehealth coverage.

  • Health systems are rapidly setting up technology for their providers – my local IPA is providing a free telemedicine platform for over 1000 MDs.

  • The big telehealth companies are inundated with phone and video requests.

Congress is also stepping up to the plate by passing the ‘‘Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 6 2020’’. Years of delay in implementation of telemedicine overcome on one day. The coronavirus emergency supplemental legislation now expands Medicare coverage of telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries. As more and more patients with symptoms seek treatment, the virus will spread rapidly in health care settings – we have to reduce the use of ‘brick and mortar’ PCP offices and E.R.’s. Telehealth offers unique capacity for remote screening, triage, and treatment, and it could be a powerful tool for reducing transmission of the disease to and among health care workers and patients who are not infected.

A recent article in The Economist noted that Chinese telemedicine services quickly launched online coronavirus clinics to triage and treat patients across the country. One company alone is now conducting about 2 million online consultations per month, up tenfold since the outbreak. These new telehealth platforms have enabled patients in China to access care without having to travel, thereby reducing the risks of exposure and spread

In my neck of the woods UCSF quickly launched an automated tool to proactively screen patients entering UCSF facilities for appointments. The tool has screened more than 100,000 patients, thus helping to identify cases and control the virus’s spread.

The speed and scale at which coronavirus has spread across the world have created major challenges for the U.S. healthcare system. I am pleased to say that Telemedicine is already playing its part to help control this pandemic;

  • Telehealth can make a valuable contribution to coronavirus screening, testing, and treatment efforts.

  • Telehealth can lessen the workload of our Primary Care providers

  • Telehealth can lessen the burden on our already overcrowded Emergency Departments

We should seize the opportunity to leverage all these telehealth platforms in the most effective and efficient ways possible worldwide to help protect public health and save lives.

It’s time to embrace this new world of virtual care – TELEMEDICINE has arrived !


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