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The Impact of Telemedicine in Healthcare During COVID-19

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One of the few positives to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is the greater understanding and appreciation for telemedicine. At a time when stay-at-home orders increase and social distancing has become the norm for most Americans, a rapidly growing number of providers nationwide have turned to telemedicine as a safe, efficient, and effective way to deliver a wide array of healthcare services to patients.

It was only a few months back when we wrote about the impact of telemedicine in healthcare. Little did we know how much would change in such a short period. The blog shared eight success stories of organizations using telemedicine to positively affect the delivery of care. We more recently published a blog highlighting six organizations that are now leveraging telehealth (a term frequently used interchangeably with telemedicine) during the pandemic.

Not only is telemedicine helping provide safe care, patients are appreciating the service and experience. As a survey by IT vendor Sykes indicated, nearly three-quarters of respondents said they would consider using telehealth to undergo a COVID-19 remote screening, and two-thirds said the pandemic has increased their willingness to try virtual care in the future, Healthcare IT News reports.

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Impact of Telemedicine in Healthcare During COVID-19: 6 Services

In this blog, we identify six of the healthcare services organizations are currently providing via telemedicine during the pandemic.

1. COVID-19 screening

Perhaps the most important service now available by telemedicine in some markets is screening for the COVID-19 virus. For example, Tampa General Hospital in Florida recently announced it now has two ways for people to undergo COVID-19 screening and testing, including via telehealth.

Those interested in taking advantage of this offering are instructed to download the hospital's virtual care app, TGH Virtual Care. It allows patients to speak with a board-certified physician around the clock. This physician will ask screening questions to determine if testing is necessary. The charge is $49 and there's no appointment necessary. The offering is an alternative to visiting a clinic.

2. Medication Management

Elizabeth Layton Center (ELC) is a provider of behavioral services to citizens of Florida's Franklin and Miami counties. In an effort to continue delivering its mental health and substance use treatment services, the organization has turned to telehealth. In late March, ELC announced that it was offering some services, including medication management, by telephone and televideo. Other services now available virtually include new client admissions, therapy, case management, and peer support services, according to a report in The Miami County Republic.

ELC Leslie Bjork told the publication, "This time of national crisis is stressful. Managing the COVID-related changes in routine, social isolation, family challenges, financial stressors, and grief can be overwhelming for both adults and youth. ELC is here to help, and we're happy to provide that help in formats that promote social distance and safety."

3. Opioid Treatment

Providers are turning to telemedicine to help those individuals battling an opioid addition adhere to their medication regimen while reducing the need for physical visits to treatment clinics. Arizona's ABC 15 highlights the effort by Community Medical Services (CMS), a large provider of opioid addiction treatment services, to use telemedicine as a means of conducting appointments. The station notes that CMS has experienced a 40% reduction in face-to-face patient appointments since implementing telemedicine services in the state.

PBS recently explored the topic of leveraging telehealth to treat opioid use disorder. The story discussed, in part, how organizations like the nonprofit Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation are relying on virtual care to reach as many vulnerable patients as possible. "RecoveryGo," the Foundation's virtual outpatient care program, uses video conferencing for counseling and treating patients. The story notes, "Early trials of the program indicate that the attendance rate was higher in virtual groups than facility-based groups. Patient testimonials reported positive experiences, despite initially being apprehensive about involvement in a virtual program."

4. Mental Health

Witnessing an increasing demand for mental health services during the pandemic, the Texas Psychological Association (TPA) announced in March that its members were working to expand the "TPA Pro Bono Project: COVID-19." This project is designed to support the psychological wellbeing and mental health needs of individuals seeking help during the pandemic.

Through the project, TPA members provide up to two hours of free mental health services to underinsured or uninsured Texans. These services are provided via telephone or telehealth platforms. As TPA President Dr. Megan Mooney, stated, "COVID-19 is placing an enormous amount of emotional, social and psychological strain on people all across our state. Now, more than ever, access to mental health care is vital. Texas psychologists stand ready to help."

5. Dentistry

While it may sound surprising, virtual dental services are now being offered all across the country. For example, Carolina Dentistry, based in Chapel Hill, N.C., is providing teledentistry as an option to its patients, reports WXII. A virtual helpline is accessible from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. five days a week. The initial call to the hotline is free, while additional services may incur a fee.

Dr. Scott De Rossi, president of Carolina Dentistry, told WXII, "This allows patients to identify whether or not they are having a dental emergency before coming to see us, and also perhaps save them a trip to Chapel Hill if another emergency care option is closer to them locally. Additionally, this service helps keep dental emergencies out of hospital emergency departments — allowing UNC Health and others to focus on those with other emergent needs."

6. Physical Therapy

How can someone receive physical therapy without physical contact? With a little creativity and technology.

Evolve Physical Therapy and Advanced Wellness in San Diego began offering telehealth physical therapy and gym appointments in March. As the organization's website notes, appointments are conducted via the Zoom video conferencing service. Patients are emailed links to join their physical therapy telehealth session. At the time of their appointment, clicking the link will connect them with their therapist. The service is available to existing patients and patients with new injuries needing evaluations.

Kate Grace, a physical therapist and orthopedic physician assistant who provides services at Evolve, told KUSI, "It's the best we can do is see patients from afar. We can diagnose the problem by doing a subjective and objective test we can give them suggestions to what to do at home and anybody who's one of our gym patients we can progress or program."

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