For an already overburdened healthcare system the COVID-19 pandemic is a potential disaster waiting to happen. Inefficiencies in the system, slow-moving regulatory changes, a shortage of physicians, and government mandates for social distancing all create obstacles to critical healthcare services.
But, while there are challenges, the pandemic is also creating a series of case studies in how connected health can overcome obstacles and increase healthcare efficiency and availability. Across the country, healthcare providers, emergency responders, and government organizations are leveraging telehealth and remote patient monitoring solutions to help ensure patients receive the care they need, while following safety standards to limit the spread of the virus, which has now infected more than 800,000 people in the U.S.
Here are just a few examples of how connected health is helping treat patients while promoting disease containment practices:
- In Virginia, EMS personnel are connecting with healthcare professionals for immediate patient evaluations and suggested courses of action, including home treatment and isolation, or hospital admission.
- The Los Angeles Fire Department launched a telehealth program, where low-acuity 911 callers can be given appropriate treatment advice by connecting them with specially trained medical professionals.
- A Colorado-based healthcare provider had its entire network of more than 700 clinics activate telehealth programs within a three-day span. It is now offering virtual visits with PCPs and specialists, as well as urgent virtual care for COVID-19 issues. The system has seen virtual visits increase from 20 per day to more than 200 a day in the past month.
- In South Carolina, several healthcare systems are conducting free virtual coronavirus screening for anyone exhibiting symptoms.
- The state of Illinois has launched a remote patient monitoring program in response to the increase in confirmed and potential coronavirus cases. The program enables Pandemic Health Workers to use connected health applications and devices to monitor symptomatic patients who don’t require hospital admission, as well as high-risk individuals. The program also includes the launch of a mental health support line to help residents cope with high levels of anxiety and stress.
- Maryland’s governor has temporarily approved the use of video, audio, and asynchronous telehealth platforms to expand providers’ ability to manage COVID-19 patients while following safety protocols.
Texas Health and Human Services launched a hotline to provide mental health support for state residents experiencing anxiety, stress, or other emotional issues during the pandemic.
In addition to the many specific programs that have been launched or expanded in recent weeks, most states have temporarily adjusted telehealth definitions and regulations around using connected health during the current crisis. To date, 34 states and Washington, D.C. have enacted temporary licensure policy changes for in-person, telehealth, and/or mental health services to make it easier for physicians to treat patients.
But, it’s not just providers and government agencies that are stepping up during this health crisis. Insurers, too, are updating their policies to help facilitate testing and healthcare delivery. Many insurers waived co-pays and cost-sharing for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and treatment and are promoting telehealth services for both general wellness and COVID-19 concerns. Since then, CMS has taken the issue a step further, requiring all insurers to cover testing and other related services for COVID-19 with no out of pocket expenses for patients. This includes hospital visits as well as telehealth engagements.
While the world continues to wait for a COVID-19 vaccine, healthcare systems are being pushed to their limits. But, connected health solutions are helping reduce the burden on providers and emergency personnel as they continue to provide essential services to their communities.
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