Telemedicine is an essential part of the evolving solution to the healthcare crisis caused by COVID-19, the novel coronavirus sweeping the globe. Telemedicine promises to provide increased access to care, especially in areas where healthcare providers are stretched thin. Remote doctor visits also reduce possible exposure to the coronavirus, resulting in a safer environment for both patients and physicians.
What Telemedicine Is and How It Works
The concept behind telemedicine is deceptively simple. Healthcare professionals and their patients communicate via video chat or conferencing technology. Patients use their home computers, tablets, or smartphones for conferencing with their physicians over the Internet. This enables patients to be treated by their doctors from wherever they may be sheltered in place, without having to leave their homes.
Why We Need Telemedicine – Now
Telemedicine is a concept whose time has come. It is especially relevant during the current coronavirus pandemic when people are being urged to avoid appearing in public except for essential activities.
Increased Access to Healthcare
Telemedicine makes it easy for patients anywhere to obtain the healthcare they need in a timely fashion. This is especially beneficial for those people who do not live near a healthcare clinic and for older patients with limited mobility. Patients do not have to spend hours traveling to or waiting for a physician; clinics serving rural areas can better provide services to those patients who live at a distance.
Telemedicine enables patients to be diagnosed and treated faster, which results in both improved outcomes and reduced treatment costs. Patients treated via telemedicine have shown to have shorter hospital stays, fewer complications, and lower mortality rates.
For example, home monitoring of chronic diseases cuts the number of required hospital visits in half. Some hospitals have found that the use of telemedicine reduces the readmission rate for heart patients from 20% to just 5%.
Reduced Exposure to Illness
Even in the best of times, high-risk individuals are exposed to a variety of illnesses when visiting clinics, hospitals, and doctor’s offices filled with sick patients. This is especially true with the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19. Telemedicine enables vulnerable patients to stay at home and away from the contagious population, thus receiving the care they need without increasing their risk of infection.
By enabling in-home monitoring, telemedicine helps to lower the high cost of doctor’s visits and hospital stays. Surveys have found that the net savings for a telemedicine visit ranged from a low of $19 to a high of $121 per visit.
Challenges of Telemedicine
Implementing a telemedicine program isn’t as easy as connecting doctors and patients via Skype. There are some challenges when it comes to administering care online, which hospitals and clinics new to the process are likely to encounter.
Potential for Reduced Care Continuity
If a telemedicine solution enables patients to simply log in and request an online appointment with the next available physician, as most do, this may result in a lack of continuity in patient care. Patients do not develop long-term relationships with a single doctor and the available physician will not be familiar with the patient’s medical history and unique needs. This may result in reduced levels of care.
Security and Privacy
In addition to offering text, voice, and video messaging, a full-featured telemedicine communications platform must protect the privacy of patients and their medical information. The most secure platforms, such as AWS Wickr, meet and exceed HIPAA privacy regulations by offering complete end-to-end encryption and Zero Trust infrastructure.
What Telemedicine Means for Remote Work
While hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices need to remain open to deal with the influx of COVID-19 patients, many support activities can be shifted to remote work. Telemedicine platforms and connected workspaces will enable administrative staff to take advantage of flexible work-from-home options. A variety of billing, bookkeeping, scheduling, and administrative tasks can just as easily be performed from home, thus enabling those healthcare workers to adhere to shelter-at-home requests and reduce their exposure to the coronavirus.
Some physicians will also be able to take advantage of telemedicine to work remotely. For example, surgeons need only see patients in person for surgical procedures — pre- and post-op discussions can be done remotely, from the surgeon’s home. If no specialized equipment is necessary, many routine office visits can be conducted from wherever the primary physician is sheltered in place.
Ultimately, the advances in telemedicine required to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic will result in long-term changes to the healthcare system. Patients will appreciate the ability to receive secure care on an as-needed basis, and physicians will recognize both the financial and workplace benefits of doing at least part of their work remotely.
Choose AWS Wickr for Secure Telemedicine Communications
AWS Wickr is a robust and secure communications solution, offering end-to-end encryption. AWS Wickr for telemedicine offers secure voice and video calling with screen sharing, private 1:1 direct messaging, and full HIPAA compliance. It’s ideal for healthcare professionals working remotely — it enables secure collaboration between team members, no matter where they’re located. Contact us to learn more about how AWS Wickr can work for your practice.
AWS Wickr is free for qualifying medical practices – download it today!