During the past several months, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost everything we do – the way we work, the way we interact, the way we shop, and the way we receive healthcare.  The situation has put the healthcare system to the test like never before and placed new obstacles in the way of delivering quality care.  But, it’s also provided opportunities to move healthcare delivery into a new digital era, and has driven a new understanding of the benefits of connected health technologies as a means of supplementing or replacing traditional care.

While normal care may have been disrupted for many patients, telehealth programs have stepped in to bridge the gap, at least to some extent.  They have helped physicians and patients overcome physical barriers to care, enabling treatment and consultation at a time when most people are extremely hesitant to risk exposure to a contagious virus.  During this period, connected health technologies have emerged in several phases

Social Distancing Outpatient Care –

With social distancing orders in place to reduce the spread of the virus, telehealth allows providers to continue to deliver care to many patients without requiring office visits.  This allows providers to also better manage patients who do require in-person visits, helping reduce wait times and risk.  Patients may find telehealth visits easier to manage while dealing with other pandemic-related circumstances, like children being home from school.  Likewise, physicians dealing with similar situations – or who have been quarantined due to exposure – can continue treating patients virtually.  This also includes the use of remote patient monitoring combined with virtual visits for treating chronic conditions, which can be particularly beneficial for high-risk patients.

COVID-19 Emergency Response –

Emergency responders can use telehealth to quickly connect to hospitals to conduct on-site patient evaluations for both potential virus cases and other emergencies.  This allows hospitals to better define next steps, whether that’s home treatment or hospital admission following appropriate safety protocols.  It can also get emergency responders back into service faster, allowing them to respond to more cases faster.  Many providers have implemented telehealth programs to enable better coronavirus response.

COVID-19 Inpatient Treatment –

Considering the contagious nature of COVID-19, reducing exposure to patients and healthcare professionals is a priority.  Virtual care, even within hospital environments, can help providers better manage staffing, including providing the ability to add resources from other facilities and systems to handle high demand.  Similarly, remote patient monitoring can make it easier to manage patients – including confirmed COVID-19 cases – without exposing staff or other patients.  Connected health can also allow physicians and staff to perform monitoring, check-ins, and consultations from their homes, further reducing risk and allowing them to manage their family situations better.

Elective Procedures –

As distancing measure are relaxed, many patients may want to schedule previously postponed visits or procedures.  With more than 28 million procedures cancelled during the pandemic, this can put an added strain on healthcare systems.  Continued use of connected health for other patients and conditions can help reduce the burden by reducing the flow of patients through facilities, allowing physicians to handle more patients virtually within a limited time frame, while managing an influx of patients looking to schedule procedures.  Connected health can also help enable home-based post-procedure follow-ups.

Second Wave –

What will happen as restrictions on movement, distancing, and social gatherings continue to be reduced is difficult to predict.  Many believe we will see a significant second wave of outbreaks, which will require continued use of connected health to treat patients – both COVID-19 cases and routine care.  If that happens, the connected health capabilities many providers have already implemented can enable them to react more rapidly than during the initial outbreaks in March, hopefully creating less of a healthcare bottleneck and better containing a second wave.

Regardless of the time frame, connected health has emerged as a valuable tool during this pandemic that has been adopted by healthcare providers and emergency services organizations across the country.  Many of them have seen high levels of usage during the pandemic, and patient awareness of telehealth has grown, and most patients are more willing to try telehealth than they were before this crisis began.  Perhaps more importantly, patient response to telehealth is overwhelmingly positive.  Of patients who have had telehealth visits, 59% have already had at least one additional virtual engagement, and another 37% say they would have a telehealth visit again.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge, especially for the healthcare system, which has been in need of an overhaul to reduce inefficiencies for some time.  There will still be hurdles to overcome – including how governments handle the expanded telehealth rules they have put in place during the crisis – but the advances providers have made in providing virtual care in a few short months could pave the way for a new connected health reality.

To learn more about how connected health can help providers deliver better care, visit us here.