Blog | Thursday, April 9, 2020

Will telemedicine be the new normal?


The technology for telemedicine (video visits with your doctor) has been around for decades. Sutter Health was the first hospital system in the West to install the electronic ICU (eICU) where critical care physicians and nurses could do remote video monitoring of all patients in ICU beds and jump on problems before they became serious (drop in blood pressure, restless patients, changes on oxygen, or other critical markers). We have wearable technology for patients to transmit their blood glucose levels, EKGs and even sonograms but despite the technology and hype, none of this has been adopted on a wide scale.

So why has it taken so long for patients and doctors to adopt this technology and use it every day instead of relying on last century visits to the doctor's office? Why does a patient in a rural community need to drive for hours and wait months to see a specialist in a big city?

COVID-19 will revolutionize telemedicine and I don't see us ever going back.

We are in the midst of the pandemic with not enough professionals, personal protective equipment (PPE), or capacity to take care of everyone at once. In their wisdom, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services relaxed the rules and are now allowing doctor and other caregivers, both in and out of the hospital setting, to see patients using telemedicine and telephone visits and (note the caps here) TO GET PAID FOR IT.

We are also seeing states allow physicians to practice across state lines, another barrier removed.

Billing codes, payment and ability to cross state lines are the game changers!

For the COVID-19 pandemic, video visits have provided safety to patients and office staff by limiting exposure to sick people. Most doctors can tell a lot by talking to and seeing a patient. We can see how sick they are, how well they are oxygenating, if they are struggling emotionally or physically and if they need immediate attention or can wait. Home thermometers and wearable watches and blood pressure monitors can give us vital signs. This virus is worse on the elderly and video visits can same time and expense. Virtual visits don't require transportation, moving disabled people, parking expense, other family members or delayed appointments.

Telemedicine will not replace doctors nor will it replace hands-on physical exams. But now that patients are familiar with it and doctors can get paid for their time I predict it will be here to stay once the pandemic has quieted down.

Finally!

This post originally appeared at Everything Health. Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, is an ACP Internist editorial board member who blogs at EverythingHealth, designed to address the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st Century.