Video conferencing/Telemedicine and Functional Medicine in the COVID-19 Era
None of us could begin to imagine even a few short months ago the walloping impact that COVID-19 would have on our world. The global pandemic has shut down the world. At the same time changed the way the world functions.
Suddenly, kids aren't going to school. Instead, doing school from computers and the kitchen table. Businesses have closed and have sent their workers home. They too spend their days at a computer working from home.
Even the medical community on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way they work. Many implemented HIPAA-compliant telemedicine and video conferencing applications to treat patients. The pandemic spread of the coronavirus has mandated those changes. The healthcare community needed to adapt to how it treats patients, those with and without COVID-19 symptoms.
What role is telemedicine playing in those changes? How is telemedicine helping during the global pandemic? How can it help both patients and the medical community both get and offer care and at the same time remain safe from the virus? Read on to learn about the role of telemedicine during the coronavirus.
What Is Telemedicine/Video conferencing?
In the past when you became ill or wanted to consult with your doctor you called their office. You made an appointment and then went into the office. Telemedicine is changing that formula. The beauty of telemedicine is that a patient need not be an expert at using a computer. Most applications for telemedicine are extremely easy to install and use.
Telemedicine allows health care providers to use today's modern technology. They use apps and telecommunication technologies, to provide healthcare services to their patients.
Instead of seeing your doctor in their office, you wait in a virtual waiting room. They can talk with you by phone. Or they can use technology to both see and hear you from a computer. You do the appointment from your home. The doctor is on the other end of the electronic communication.
Telemedicine allows for patient and clinician care. It allows doctors to treat and gain information on symptoms and provide intervention services. It also allows them to educate and monitor patients. Hospitals are even using it for remote admissions. It's being used for the collection of data and data analytics related to patient symptoms and conditions as well.
Before COVID-19, as many as 82% of patients had never used any telemedical services. Yet, an NIH survey that evaluated those who had used telemedicine services found patients were very satisfied with the services. Between 94 and 99% of patients approved of the care and services they received through telemedicine.
Functional Medicine Alongside Telemedicine
Functional medicine considers the biology involved and attempts to look at the root causes related to an illness. As doctors continue to treat patients during the coronavirus using functional medicine with telemedicine is an important tool for treatment.
Doctors can continue to meet with patients. They can evaluate both their symptoms and what might be bringing on those conditions. Telemedicine allows medical providers to continue patient interactions. It allows for information gathering from patients even during a time when other providers have stopped care.
Impact of COVID-19 on Telemedicine
Before the COVID-19 global pandemic shut down the world, telemedicine was being used. Most would agree though, it's uses were more limited and less available to patients. Telemedicine was available to patients in less metropolitan areas where health care availability was limited.
Post COVID-19, telemedicine has taken on a more significant role in healthcare. In an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus, health care systems want to limit patients physically entering facilities. But health care services can't come to a halt, especially as patients worry about potential coronavirus symptoms.
Doctors' offices and health care systems have kicked into high gear the use of telemedicine to treat and evaluate patients. Both potential COVID-19 patients and non-COVID patients are seeing doctors via technology for evaluations and care.
Using Telemedicine for COVID-19 Care
Telemedicine has become instrumental in the prevention of the virus spreading. When a patient has symptoms that align with COVID-19, health care facilities don't want the patients to come in. In fact, they're not allowing it unless it presents as an emergent situation.
If a patient enters an emergency room with coronavirus symptoms they put other patients at risk. They also can potentially infect those health care workers on the frontlines. Instead, patients are being asked to use telehealth services to discuss symptoms. Then make decisions about if and where they should seek testing.
Once patients are diagnosed with COVID-19, doctors are using telemedicine to monitor patients. They gather data on their symptoms and condition through the illness via electronic means. Some doctors' offices are calling and texting patients to check on symptoms.
Is the patient getting worse?
What symptoms do they present with still?
Does it appear the patient has worsening symptoms that might require additional care?
What diagnostics are needed for the patient?
All of this being done remotely through the use of telemedicine allows the healthcare worker to remain virus-free and still provide quality care to suffering patients.
Telehealth Services Beyond COVID-19 Care
Because of COVID-19, healthcare providers have become more proactive in the use of telemedicine for patients that need care but aren't coronavirus patients.
Patients who need routine care are using apps and telecommunication services. They can talk with their doctor about symptoms and get adjustments in care. Healthcare providers gather patient history from the telemedicine format. Doctors can adjust medications as needed.
Mental health is another area where telemedicine has evolved during coronavirus times. Patients who once sat with a therapist in their office can now do appointments virtually. There's no gap in services and they still get the needed care.
Most insurance companies that previously might have had limitations on telemedical care have now changed their policies related to telemedicine. They are covering telemedicine appointments.
Some insurance providers even have healthcare providers available through their websites for consultations. If you use their insurance, you can seek a consultation about how to proceed with symptoms by talking with a nurse or healthcare advocate.
Concerns with Telehealth
Telehealth services do have some limitations. First, the medical community had to adapt quickly to the demands of telemedicine. Many were not using telemedicine to its full capacity prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. They needed to move fast to make these services available.
Second, some patients may worry that they may not be able to get the appropriate diagnostic testing via telemedicine. However, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, most functional medicine providers were utilizing at-home testing for their patients. This eliminates the need to go to a lab for testing. The prime example of this is the GI-MAP test kit, which can be used to collect a stool sample at home, mailed to the lab, and eventually discuss your results with the doctor via telemedicine. The doctor, their staff, as well as the patient can work efficiently in this "contactless" form of medicine.
Privacy concerns may be the next big concern of some patients. However, HIPAA comes to the rescue. This is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), which includes provisions that require providers to adopt national standards for electronic health care transactions. The penalties for not adhering to HIPAA are extremely strict. Prior to HIPAA, most providers would use open applications like Skype to call their patients. However, HIPAA has ensured that the market is now flooded with HIPAA-compliant applications such as Zoom, Doxy and Practice Better. If your provider is not already using one of these apps, ask them to switch before your next call.
Adaptations Needed By Healthcare Community
The healthcare community has had to adapt swiftly because of the coronavirus pandemic. They need to have basic hardware to provide telehealth services. Some doctors have resorted to talking to patients via the telephone. Yet, more sophisticated telehealth set-ups are both needed and available. Hospitals have scrambled to get that hardware in place needed to communicate with patients.
Something as simple as the broadband needed to provide the depth of services needed was top of the list for many healthcare systems. Do they have the broadband capabilities to provide this much in telehealth services?
If you've ever been on a conference call with bad sound quality, you know how frustrating it can be. Medical providers are now having to think beyond keeping waiting rooms germ free. Instead, they have to focus on offering quality telehealthcare conditions so the patient gets the optimal experience.
In today's technology-driven world, those who are native to it, adapt best. While an older patient who isn't as tech-savvy might be more reluctant about telemedicine, millennials are all for it. They are comfortable with the technology and appreciate the ease and flexibility that telemedicine services provide.
Many healthcare providers are using digital care in other ways too. They have set up patient portals where patients can provide information to their healthcare provider. Information can also come from the healthcare provider to the patient. These patient portals are ideal for collecting data and creating data analytics from patients too.
Test results can be made available. Patient histories can be recorded. Even insurance and patient background information can be stored. Of course, the healthcare community must be at the forefront of security to protect patient information.
Telemedicine and COVID-19
COVID-19 has forced the whole world to change the way they do business. The healthcare community was forced to prepare and adapt to the demands of the coronavirus. They had to think of other patients' needs too. Telemedicine services have taken on a significant role during the coronavirus outbreak. Telemedicine has not only provided the chance for patient care to continue. It also helped keep healthcare workers safer during the pandemic.
If you're interested in more information about functional health services and our telemedicine care, contact Dr. Gupta today for a free 15-minute call.