With the COVID-19 restrictions, healthcare providers are put under tremendous pressure to treat patients with health conditions and maintain office hours while following the latest social distancing and occupancy limitations. Healthcare is considered an essential business, but the health and safety of patients is critical to stay in business and avoid government penalties. Technology can get healthcare professionals through lockdowns and restrictions and help with remote diagnosis as patients take advantage of telehealth and telemedicine.
Unique Challenges in Healthcare
The Coronavirus led to strict penalties for any service provider who didn’t follow protocols. Understandably, essential businesses were still allowed to stay open, but some healthcare providers were not considered essential (e.g., elective surgery or non-surgical procedures). Even though these businesses couldn’t remain open, they still needed to support patients, maintain checkups after procedures, and take patient calls should they have questions.
Essential healthcare businesses also had unique challenges. They remained open, but they needed to maintain rules for social distancing and limit occupancy within the office, including staff. Patients already immunocompromised are at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19, so it’s imperative for healthcare providers to take strict precautions during standard procedures.
Safety for Essential Providers Using Telemedicine and Telehealth
OSHA published several guidelines and approaches to help healthcare providers safeguard patients, but patients still need to see a provider for checkups, follow-ups after procedures, and discuss concerns about their health. This eliminates a provider’s ability to socially distance and requires staff onsite to support day-to-day business.
A viable solution during lockdowns is telemedicine. Telemedicine benefits health providers by giving them the ability to still maintain revenue and care, and it provides convenience and safety to immunocompromised patients. Both providers and patients don’t need to be computer savvy to leverage the technology.
The comfort and convenience are what drive telemedicine and telehealth popularity. Although providers and patients were thrust into situations where remote services were required, the comfort and convenience have been recognized as an advantage that could be used permanently when businesses return to normal. Patients no longer need to make the drive to an appointment, which is difficult for some patients with no available transportation. Healthcare workers can free up their onsite appointments for patients who need a physical checkup in-office.
Patients go to providers after feeling sick, so it’s risky for everyone at a healthcare provider’s office including other patients and staff. Using telehealth, providers can reduce the spread of infection of not only COVID-19, but other infectious diseases as well. Telehealth technology can also be used to prescreen patients before they come into the office. With a pre-screen, providers can determine if an onsite checkup is necessary and reduce traffic in the office.
Allowing providers to see the patient’s home environment can also help with diagnosis. For instance, a patient with allergies could be suffering from a chronic condition due to unknown home environment variables. Providers can identify issues within the home that could be a factor in patient symptoms. Patients can also explain their daily routine using their home environment to better explain to doctors and, therefore, receive a better diagnosis.
Not only does telehealth save healthcare provider costs, but it also saves patients money. Patients no longer need to spend money on transportation, and they can take a consultation from home or at work, reducing the amount of time patients must take off from work. For busy moms, finding childcare is no longer an issue. Patients no longer worry about drive times and being late to appointments, which is also a huge advantage to providers. The convenience of not sitting in a waiting room is also a benefit for patients.
In many scenarios, patients need access to specialists or the ability to ask questions. Healthcare providers can offer on-demand options that give patients the ability to talk to a specialist or their general practitioner within the same day. Better access to doctors and other healthcare providers essentially leads to effective healthcare, diagnosis as patients can speak to their provider more often, and reduce the chance of spreading illnesses – including Coronavirus – to other patients.
Leveraging Technology in Telehealth
The foundation for effective telehealth is the technology behind it. The technology must be intuitive so that patients and providers can easily work with features and gain all benefits offered by devices. It must also be tolerant of disinfectant (e.g., bleach) so that the device enclosures and casing do not fall apart after only a few uses.
Several current technology advancements are perfect for telehealth and its myriad of challenges during COVID-19 restrictions. The technology supports both providers and their patients. A few aspects of remote healthcare devices are necessary for convenience and efficient diagnosis:
- Tablets with a functional camera and apps for patients to conveniently dial into a centralized number to talk to providers.
- Carts that can be used to move the tablet around the patient’s home so that they can show a provider their home environment and any other helpful information that can facilitate better diagnosis.
- A tracking system that helps providers identify the location of their equipment, staff, and patients.
- Camera and sound bar for video and sound during consultations.
Advantech has the technology and the equipment for telehealth, telemedicine, and remote access between patients and providers. Both stationary and mounted solutions are available, depending on the provider’s needs and patient preferences. Use mounted options to provide a moveable device that can be carted from room to room as doctors speak to patients. Patients can use the carted solution to move around their homes as they speak to a provider.
The vaccine for COVID-19 will be rapidly administered soon, but telehealth is here to stay. It offers benefits that will help busy healthcare providers service patients without forcing them to wait days for future appointments. For patients, they no longer need to find transportation, take off from work, or have the added travel time needed for a standard doctor’s appointment. The technology to help providers move towards telemedicine is convenient, intuitive, and takes little space in any office.