In recent years, we’ve seen that telemedicine can save patients time and money, as well as reduce visits to clinics, urgent care centers, and Emergency Departments. Now, we’re learning how it can save lives.
The use of telemedicine, the practice of providing clinical healthcare at a distance, has had a sustained growth over the last ten years with a sudden and significant spike in usage during the coronavirus pandemic. This surge is testing the limits of the current delivery system in significant ways, ranging from reimbursement issues to broadband access to acceptance by the aging demographic. However, with the need for social distancing and stay-at-home orders, many have found telemedicine can adequately serve their needs while preventing unnecessary exposure to the virus.
The increased acceptance of telemedicine has the potential for long term impact on several fronts – specifically the healthcare industry’s decades-long attempt to reduce visits to Emergency Departments and urgent care centers. A recent article in the April 30, 2020 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine discusses “forward triage,” a term describing the sorting of patients before they arrive at the Emergency Department and how this is a central strategy for surge control. As telemedicine continues to gain acceptance, it will play a crucial role in this type of triage and will help limit the exposure to those seeking emergency assistance within a facility – especially those with existing health conditions or compromised immune systems.
For decades there has been a growing number of procedures moved to an outpatient setting. With the increased usage of telemedicine, we should also see a greater percentage of office visits performed in a virtual environment. This has the potential to free up physical space and staff availability to focus on more serious health visits and provide additional separation between well and sick patients. As hospitals see higher and higher acuity patients and procedures shift to the outpatient setting, telemedicine will play a significant role in this migration.