Telemedicine gets shot in arm from COVID-19

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Unintended consequences of COVID-19 are likely to pop up in an untold number of ways. Perhaps one of them could be the more widespread use of telemedicine. That was one of the key messages delivered in the fourth of the SVS Town Halls series titled “Telemedicine platforms and their use in the COVID-19 era.”

Outlining the sheer number of people struck by the virus—including thousands upon thousands of healthcare professionals—co-moderator of the Judith Lin, MD, chair of the SVS Health Information Technology Task Force, set the tone: “This pandemic is real,” said the professor of surgery at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit.

“In Detroit, we have certainly seen the upsurge, the devastation and the demise among patients and healthcare workers. Using telehealth may be a key modality to help fight against COVID-19 while we take care of our patients, conserve PPE [personal protective equipment] and protect healthcare workers to minimize the risk of spread.

“Perhaps the COVID-19 outbreak could finally make telemedicine a mainstream modality of healthcare delivery in the United States.”

In an overview of virtual care, Misty Humphries, MD, an assistant professor in the department of surgery, division of vascular surgery, at University of California, Davis, broke down the nomenclature and organization of the telemedicine world.

“Telehealth is an umbrella term, which encompasses five major categories of virtual care that I think of,” she explains. “And they have varying levels of reimbursement.”

They include: remote care monitoring such as fetal monitoring; wearable technology like app-based glucose-monitoring systems; e-consults, typically generated by a primary care provider to a specialist; virtual check-ins, a patient-initiated connection through a secure platform; and telemedicine, a real-time video connection between a patient and a provider. Telemedicine comes in two forms, Humphries added: either direct to patients in their home locations via mobile or desktop devices, or at a remote-based clinic such as a rural healthcare facility.

Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission COVID-19 Telehealth Program recently announced it would provide $200 million in funding, “appropriated by Congress as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act,” in order to help healthcare entities provide connected care services to patients at their homes or mobile locations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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