Possible Positive Outcome of Pandemic? Increase in Telemedicine by Doctors & Patients in CNY
Telemedicine. You’ve probably heard the term passed around, or maybe you’ve even used the tech yourself to meet a doctor over the phone. It’s like how you use Zoom to attend work meetings, except instead of sharing your screen with co-workers, you’re showing the doctor that funny mole you grew on your neck.
Mei Kwong, the Executive Director with the Center for Connected Health Policy, has been singing the praises of telemedicine for years now, and thinks that there are many specialties that have been benefiting from it already. The main reason? It provides ACCESS to healthcare in many areas that were lacking.
“Telehealth, before COVID-19, was really mainly considered a type of technology to be used in rural areas where they had a shortage of healthcare providers.”
Even though access benefits are plain to see, the technology really wasn’t popular among providers before the pandemic. When the Medical Director for Excellus in Syracuse, Doctor Nicolas Massa, first heard of the idea he wasn’t so sure about seeing patients over the phone.
“Initially, I had some hesitation about the whole concept because I think many of us think of health care as only primary and acute care.”
A lot of people have these immediate concerns. It’s confusing as a patient when you know your doctor won’t be placing the stethoscope on your chest, testing your knee reflex, or wrapping the blood pressure cuff around your arm. And even if you get past those concerns, the technology still has its shortcomings.
Family Nurse Practitioner Roman Batyuk has observed these in his own practice.
“It certainly has its limitations, for instance I cannot do a physical exam on someone. Its limited to the speed of internet connection, how savvy the person is with technology.”
But then COVID hit. We couldn’t receive care the way we always had.
COVID PANDEMIC CLOSED MEDICAL OFFICES FOR MONTHS
Back in March, it was no longer safe to see your doctor, whether that was for a yearly physical, for monitoring chronic conditions, or even for an elective procedure. So we were forced to do what we could, and providers such as Excellus’s Massa began adopting telemedicine at a level no one could’ve anticipated.
“April 2020, I think we saw maybe 1600 visits a month in our provider network for medical visits over telehealth, and then in that same fourth month period this year over 160k”
The uptake of the technology wasn’t always smooth. There were connectivity issues, platform errors, and a steep learning curve for both physicians and patients. But over time, both knowledge and facilities started to improve. The more people had to use it, the better they got at it.
Even after doctors’ offices started to open up a bit, Massa notes that one plus of the technology is that its benefits are only beginning to be explored. Nuanced benefits, for example, like the ability to monitor chronic hypertension through an I-Pad. And, as Batyuk notes, even in areas such as mental health. Doctors can now counsel an anxious person from the comfort of their own home, or ask someone who’s getting treatment for an eating disorder to show what’s in their fridge.
“It gives you an insight into that person’s environment and that allows you to better understand their situation”
Here’s where we are now. Most providers have been able to dip their toe into the world of telemedicine and have a base familiarity with it. Patients are growing more comfortable. Everyone we spoke to agrees that telehealth, going forward, should really just be another tool in the doctor’s toolkit.
Can’t miss work but have to get a check-up? Call in during your lunch hour.
Your kids got a rash? Set up a click appointment with your dermatologist.
Need to meet a mental health specialist from Syracuse but you’re in Sacramento? Meet them for a live, remote Zoom consultation.
These are the types of visits that Massa hopes we’ll be able to see moving forward.
“We live in a very fast paced busy society, technology has helped us make our life easier and more efficient in other areas, why not healthcare?”
So in the future, you may find that you’re doing your doctor’s visits more over a computer screen. We know the reach of telemedicine is limited. But it’s proved its value over the past nine months, and at this point, there’s no reason it can’t continue to help us out.