Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many pundits have stated that the future of healthcare is virtual care. The beginning of this was demonstrated during that time when the demand for telemedicine increased exponentially. The circumstances of the pandemic – the high admission rates at health facilities and limitations on the movement of people – made it a necessity.
Since then, more people have been opting for this solution which allows them to seek care regardless of geographic location and without having to leave their homes.
Telemedicine is defined as the “use of electronic information and telecommunication technology to [access] health care” without having to physically attend a specific location. The requirements to access telemedicine include internet connection and a device such as a phone, tablet, or computer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some of the benefits of telemedicine include:
• Allows you to talk to your doctor live over the phone or video chat.
• Allows you to send and receive messages from your doctor using chat messaging or email.
• Allows for remote monitoring of patients.
• Saves on travel time/transportation costs.
• Reduced wait time for services.
• Reduced number of visits to clinic.
The continuation of infectious diseases such as COVID-19, which is still with us, and high hospital admission rates due to non-communicable diseases and other routine medical ailments, mean we may need to refocus on providing more options for telemedicine for the people, as hospitals continue to be crowded.
In July, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said there has been an uptick in COVID-19 cases and a steady stream of positive infections since January 2023. This has necessitated expansion of wards at facilities like the University Hospital of the West Indies.
Given these circumstances and how infectious this illness is, it would behoove healthcare providers to provide more virtual care options for other patients, especially those who are at high risk of developing complications from infections such as COVID-19.
In this instance, people who are immunocompromised would benefit greatly from not going to a healthcare provider in person, if they don’t have to and this goes for both public and private facilities. This will not only save time, increase access to care as well as efficiency for both the patient and caregiver, it will also help to protect the health of people.
GREAT BENEFIT TO RURAL PATIENTS
There is another important consideration for using telemedicine, especially now with the increased patient load. Perhaps it could be a potential solution to the limited medical workforce that we have. A combination of telemedicine and in-person care could allow doctors to be able to see more patients in a day.
This would be especially true for underserved rural areas. More options would be opened for staffing for health centres in rural parishes in particular. A doctor could be based in Kingston and still be able to provide services in other parishes. Several doctors could also be assigned to give a few hours per day using telemedicine to see rural patients.
It is understood that telemedicine, even with the addition of remote care devices, will not be the most appropriate means of seeking care in every circumstance. Sometimes a patient needs to be seen in person, depending on the complaint and their quality of health. However, it is a great candidate for non-emergency care in several areas.
Here are some of things that telemedicine can, however facilitate, according to the CDC:
• Screening for COVID-19, testing recommendations, and guidance on isolation or quarantine.
• General health care such as wellness visits, blood pressure control, advice about certain non-emergency illnesses, like common rashes.
• Prescriptions for medication.
• Nutrition counseling.
• Mental health counseling.
In the same way that telemedicine can provide numerous benefits to patients, healthcare workers can also benefit from a widescale adaptation of telemedicine along with the use of remote care services and devices.
It will certainly reduce the burden on hospitals and health centres especially when we have a spike in the number of admissions for infectious diseases, as we are now experiencing.
Published: Sunday | August 27, 2023 | 12:06 AM Doug Halsall - Contributor