The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus has taken the world by storm. Hospitals are packed with hundreds to thousands of patients infected by the virus. Healthcare systems are having an extremely hard time coping as hospitals are underequipped, undermanned, and often unprepared. As more infections occur across the world, hospitals are receiving more patients than they can handle. And, many healthcare workers are already overworked and exhausted.
No one can say how long the virus will last and how it will ultimately impact on our lives and economy, but one thing is for certain: our healthcare system isn’t working and is ineffective at protecting the lives of both healthcare workers and patients.
Healthcare Staff Are Vulnerable
The pandemic has obliged medical workers to risk death in the hope of preventing further contamination and loss of life. But in exchange for this, their lives are at the most vulnerable now. As the pandemic continues to spread, the risk of infection among healthcare workers rises. Early reports show that more than 3,000 healthcare workers in China were infected and at least 22 have died.
According to Modern Healthcare, the industry's leading source of healthcare news relating to business, policy, research and information, at least 50 healthcare workers were sent home in California after coming into contact with infected patients. In Washington state, more than 20 healthcare workers have reportedly been put under observation after interacting with a patient who died before testing positive for COVID-19. Available beds in many hospitals are also not enough, waiting rooms are at capacity, and protective supplies are scarce.
Thousands of healthcare workers are lacking the resources necessary to properly treat the influx of patients. For instance, a Wuhan doctor claimed that his staff has gone without protective equipment, medical test kits, and other supplies. They are also using disposable raincoats in the absence of protective suits. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is one of the best defenses of healthcare workers. Without it, they could easily be infected with the virus.
Reports like these prompted many people to urge governments and hospitals to develop better approaches to prevent exposure to healthcare workers. Unfortunately, many hospitals have shown lapses in conducting consistent infection control practices. A recent survey conducted by the National Nurses United, a nurse union organization, revealed that only 19% of the 6,500 nurses across 48 states are aware whether their employer had policies to address if workers were potentially exposed to the virus.
Thus, many experts suggest that relying on technology solutions will not only protect our medical workers but also lessen the strain of this pandemic.
How Telemedicine Can Help
Many experts believe that telemedicine could be the key to containing COVID-19 because it provides convenience and cost-effective medical care. Essentially, telemedicine refers to the practice of caring for patients remotely using modern technologies. According to The Hill, an American news website, it is becoming integrated into the daily operations of hospitals, specialty departments, home health agencies, private physician offices and the homes and workplaces of healthcare consumers worldwide.
The industry keeps growing as years the years pass. The 2019 US Telemedicine Market Report revealed that the telemedicine industry is expected to exceed USD 64.0 billion by 2025 due to the increasing demand for cost-saving in healthcare and technological advancements related to mobile phones and internet penetration. Globally, the market is projected to surpass $130.5 billion. Between 2005 to 2014, telemedicine visits increased at an average compound annual growth rate of 52% per year.
According to Wheel, an online site about telemedicine jobs, the global telemedicine market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 16.8% between 2017 to 2023. Many medical institutions are eager to adopt this technology due to its benefits. It saves time and can meet their needs as effectively as in-person visits. Users and patients have reported huge satisfaction with the technology. A 2019 survey found that 83% of respondents felt that the care was as good or better than an in-person visit, 79% perceived telemedicine as more convenient in terms of scheduling, and 66% felt personally connected to their telehealth practitioner.
Amid the coronavirus crisis, many people are fully realizing the benefits of telemedicine. Research from Frost and Sullivan consultants showed that telehealth visits in March surged by 50%. Based on current projections for COVID-19 infections in the US, researchers estimate coronavirus-related virtual visits could top 900 million this year.
“These virtual visits are a lifeline for the business of the practice, and then the real lifeline for the patients, because otherwise, those people would not be able to be seen,” Dr. Bob Murry, chief medical information officer at telehealth-platform provider NextGen Healthcare, said.
Meg Barron, vice president of Digital Health Strategy at the American Medical Association, said that health systems all over the US are reporting a rapid increase in adoption in telemedicine. She also mentioned that Cleveland Clinic's telehealth calls had a 15-fold increase over the last week.
"We are doing more virtual visits on a given day than we did the entire proceeding year, so things can change. I don't see us going back to the way things were, in a positive way. I think we've opened physicians' eyes, opened up the administrators' eyes, patients are recognizing the value. ... It has focused our team to deploy this at scale and these kinds of digital practices become core to the practice of medicine going forward,” John Brownstein, Chief Innovation Officer at Boston Children's Hospital, added.
Telemedicine can be used by patients as a supplement to the already overburdened health care system. It can reduce overall costs, bridge the gap among developed and less developed states, and save lives in general. According to CNBC, the world leader in business news and real-time financial market coverage, many hospitals encourage their patients who have milder symptoms to use their telehealth platforms during the crisis to help alleviate the strain on emergency rooms and doctors’ offices.
Treating coronavirus patients isn't the only way that providers are relying on this technology. It has also become a way for patients to connect with their doctors about mental health. Baron emphasized the importance of patients being able to maintain that connection with their primary provider.