Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, industries have been forced to pivot and adapt quickly to a new normal.
Businesses have had to be creative as they take on working remotely and reaching customers in new innovative ways as most of the U.S. remains under some form of a stay-at-home order.
In the medical field, health professionals are battling the biggest public health emergency the nation has seen since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. But doctors say even amid a pandemic where medical systems are stretched thin, there are patients who still need critical services.
Dr. Angela Marshall, an internal medicine physician with Comprehensive Women’s Health, an Advantia Health practice in Silver Spring, said telehealth, also referred to as telemedicine or telecare, has been a lifesaver.
“On the day we transitioned to telemedicine, I had three patients we evaluated who were positive for COVID-19,” Marshall said. “So, first and foremost, it’s been a great way to triage patients and also get them rapidly tested for COVID-19 when they were sick.”
Telehealth is the means of seeing a doctor via computer or smartphone as a way of having health needs addressed without having to appear in person. Marshall said that prior to COVID-19, telehealth represented a very small percentage of their business, but now is the number-one option.
“A lot of patients have been delaying going to hospitals or medical places because they’re concerned they might get infected,” she said. “So most of our patients have been very appreciative that we’ve been offering telehealth primarily because of their safety.”
Marshall said even patients who historically prefer in-person visits are utilizing telemedicine.
“Surprisingly, even a lot of my elderly patients have adapted to this technology,” she said. “They’re actually doing the video visits and they seem to love it.”
Still, there are some who are apprehensive about having doctor visits through video fearing they won’t get the same level of treatment, but Marshall said most things can be done this way.
“We’ve been able to do visits for contraceptions and refills,” she said. “On the primary care side of things we’ve been doing blood pressure follow-ups, a lot of our patients have their own blood pressure monitors at home so they can check their pressure and give us the reading. We’re able to manage their medication. We’ve been able to do diabetes follow-ups, evaluate rashes. I diagnosed a patient with diverticulitis via telemedicine.
“We’re also in some cases able to send them to the laboratory and send them to X-ray facilities when they need it,” Marshall said. “So we’re still able to get some of that other diagnostic data to help us make our diagnosis.”
Marshall said telemedicine is also accessible to those who are low-income or face certain obstacles.
“The beauty of telemedicine is that it can be done from a smartphone so there is no desktop required, which really does help to overcome any social-economic barriers,” she said.
Marshall contends the most important piece about telemedicine is avoiding health care disruptions.
“The relationship that a patient has with their doctor is very important and I just love the video component because you can still see the patients face, their expressions, you can ascertain some of the emotional feelings that they’re having,” she said.
As for telehealth’s role in the future of medicine, Marshall believes it will be a hybrid mix of telemedicine care and in-person care.
“I think there are some things that absolutely require an in-person evaluation, but I think we are all finding out just how much we can ascertain via telemedicine, and I think it’s fantastic,” she said.