We’re officially in the Atlantic hurricane season and have, in fact, passed the average date for the first named Atlantic storm each season, July 9. That means communities from the Gulf Coast to New England will have to be prepared, should any of these major storm systems that form in the Atlantic Ocean make landfall. That includes healthcare providers, which will be in even higher demand than usual during any unusually challenging weather event.
So, what you end up with is an increased demand for services – both new and existing conditions – and a healthcare system functioning below normal capacity due to transportation issues, power outages, even evacuations. Even routine medical issues can become problematic during natural disaster situations, particularly when doctors and/or patients are unable to travel to hospitals or clinics. Fortunately, connected health tools, like telehealth, can help relieve the burden on the system and ensure access to appropriate care.
There’s a good change patients won’t be able to get to local providers in the aftermath of hurricanes or other weather events. Telehealth, though, offers a variety of options for connecting patients with providers. Major healthcare services, like hospitals, are usually among the first to be restored, which means their professionals can be contacted through telehealth services on mobile devices from anywhere, whether patients are stuck at home or have been evacuated to safer locations.
But, they are also likely to reach capacity quickly. The good news is telehealth isn’t restricted by geography, and physicians anywhere can be called upon to help handle care in disaster conditions. That can include doctors providing virtual consultations from their homes in local areas, or healthcare providers anywhere in the country, far from hurricane zones. It can also be extended to connect patients in emergency shelters to healthcare providers for immediate care.
First responders can also benefit from telehealth by connecting to doctors from remote locations to immediately receive consultative advice on handling injuries or other conditions where immediacy of care can impact outcomes.
In addition to enabling telehealth services that can ensure access to care, connected health platforms allow physicians to access patient records anywhere. While patients naturally prefer to receive care from their regular doctors, emergency situations outweigh that preference. Connected health allows other physicians to view patient medical histories to be aware of existing conditions or other factors that might impact care, and also to update those records with the latest information.
For providers in hurricane zones, it also means they can download critical patient data onto mobile devices to help facilitate care during emergencies should connectivity be lost. In addition to being able to more effectively treat patients, it also allows providers to follow up with high-risk patients based on their most recent evaluations or health metrics. Once connectivity is restored, new data can be uploaded into the network to keep patient records current.
Patient relationships are the cornerstone of healthcare services. The better the patient-doctor relationship, the more involved in their own healthcare patients are likely to become, helping increase general wellness and identifying symptoms early, before they turn into major problems. Disaster preparedness plans are another opportunity for providers to deepen relationships with patients, ensuring they know how they can access care using telehealth, if needed.
For patients with chronic conditions or others that require ongoing status updates using remote patient monitoring devices, this means going over best practices for maximize their care, such as making sure they power down devices when not taking readings, knowing where they may be able to recharge devices, or even providing them with portable power packs to ensure they are able to continue monitoring vital statistics through a storm event. Even if both WiFi and cellular connections are down, all collected data will be transmitted as soon as connectivity is restored, helping restore continuity of care.
Telehealth has already proven effective during hurricanes, including a surge in new users in the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017, including the Department of Veterans Affairs using the technology to provide services to veterans who were unable to get to their providers. When disasters strike, it really doesn’t matter where your doctor is – what matters is getting the care you need. Connected health makes that possible.
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