Since people are practicing social distancing to avoid contracting the virus, how can they consult a doctor for health maladies? Telehealth is the answer as individuals use it to consult with their doctor virtually through video calling on their phone or on the computer via a website, reported Alanna Quillen of NBC DFW, an American news channel. Telehealth is used for providing services in a more convenient manner, but doctors argue that the service is becoming more of a necessity.
US Adults Are Interested In Telehealth, But Few of Them Have Tried It
Telehealth company American Well published a white paper, finding that roughly two in three American adult consumers said they would be willing to receive care via telehealth services, cited Davio Muoio of Mobi Health News, a digital health publication. However, only 8% said they ever had a video consultation with a doctor.
Among 2,000 US adults, the willingness to use telehealth services was greatest in respondents aged 18 to 34 (74%) and those aged 35 to 44 years (72%). Willingness to use telehealth was lowest among adults aged 65 years old or older (52%). Experience with the technology was highest among the youngest demographic (16%) and lowest among seniors (1%). The respondents were interested in telehealth because it was convenient and more prompt (61%), and offered cheaper care (54%).
The former was valued by 73% of those aged 65 years and above, but they were also on the lower end when assessing the “draw of convenient visits” (57%). The senior demographic was likely to report telehealth use for prescription renewals (84% versus 72% overall) and chronic disease management (67% versus 56% overall). On the other hand, urgent care telehealth services were most valued by respondents aged 54 to 54 years (47%) while adults aged 18 to 34 years mentioned mental health care (38%) more frequently than other age groups.
Interest In Telehealth Is On the Rise
In American Well’s “Telehealth Index: 2019 Physician Survey,” 62.5% of 800 US physicians were primary care physicians, mentioned Michael Devitt of AAFP (American Academy of Family Physicians), a foundation dedicated to family medicine and family physicians. Between 2015 and the end of 2018, the proportion of physicians who used telehealth skyrocketed from 5% to 22%. Those who used telehealth cited several benefits such as improving patient access to care (93%), contributing to more efficient use of time (77%), reducing health care costs (71%), allowing for high-quality communication with patients (71%), and adding to the doctor-patient relationship (60%).
15% of physicians who used telehealth said they had used it to see patients “frequently” (defined as twice a week or more) in the last year. 48% reported they had used it “occasionally” or one to two times per month while 20% said they had not used it in the previous year. As for the future, 72% of physicians currently using telehealth in some capacity said they expect to use it frequently or at least “sometimes” (once a week or more) three years from now. However, only 3% did not expect to be using telehealth at all.
Willingness to try telehealth rose from 57% in 2015 to 69% by the end of 2018. Regarding the physician’s specialty, 91% of urologists said they were willing to use telehealth and 89% of emergency medicine physicians reported their willingness to use it. Meanwhile, 38% of radiologists and 40% of cardiologists were willing to use telehealth.
Working Overtime and Long Lines
Dallas-based physician at Bishop Arts Wellness and Recovery Dr. Jelani Ingram spoke with his patients virtually for another company for seven years, averaging 10 to 15 visits a day. Presently, he’s doing video calls with up to 50 patients each day, though some are calling late into the night and asking about COVID-19.
Ingram speculated that he went to sleep at 2 am, adding, “I take calls for urinary tract infections and sinus infections. We fill medications.” Some are looking for reassurance but he is also hoping to ease the burden put on emergency rooms from patients with milder symptoms who need to self-quarantine to curb the spread.
On the other hand, patients are queuing in long lines for consultations. Shannon Picha realized she needed a refill for a prescription medicine, narrated Graham Kates of CBS News, a television program. She made a virtual appointment using a telemedicine app called Picha and had no choice but to wait.
After waiting for a few hours, Picha got disconnected. She wrote a comment on Amwell’s Facebook page to voice out her frustration. Patients of many of the US top telemedicine firms took to social media to comment on long wait times. However, the customer service’s responses were consistent across the industry: "We're experiencing an unusually high volume of people seeking care due to COVID-19." Picha sympathized with telemedicine doctors and nurses who work for long hours. She added, “I realize millions of people have a head cold and are scared it's something else.”
Patient Volume On the Rise, but Telemedicine Providers Are Taking Action
Amwell spokesperson Holly Spring noted that patient volume was up about 700% and 312% in Washington state and New York, respectively. She conjectured that the rate of telehealth use correlates with the movement and impact of COVID-19. “We are seeing low, moderate and high risk COVID-19 patients every day,” she said.
Spring noted that the average wait time nationwide is about 33 minutes, a sharp increase from about six in January. Despite longer wait times, staying at home is a more viable option than spending hours in emergency rooms of overwhelmed hospitals where individuals are more at risk of being infected.
Chris Stenrud, Teledoc vice president, said, “We strongly believe that a patient waiting at home is better than one exposed in the community while visiting the traditional health care system.” Patients need to “understand that these are unique times” despite response times turning from minutes to hours.
Certain signs of the coronavirus can be similar to cold or flu. Fortunately, companies are taking action to limit visits from patients who don’t have the disease. Telemedicine provider Doctor on Demand recommended patients take the firm’s 11-question online coronavirus risk assessment. Once the person completes the assessment, they would be advised of their risk of carrying the sickness from low to severe. According to the company’s statement, the assessment was created to reduce “unprecedented demand” for consultations.
Telehealth is an alternative as it lets patients consult doctors from their phones or computers. Due to social distancing and overwhelmed hospitals, more people will resort to using telehealth services, resulting in longer wait times. Fortunately, telehealth providers are finding ways to reduce demand and cater to patients who are in need of immediate treatment.