The COVID-19 pandemic we’re experiencing is unlike anything that has happened in our lifetimes. We are all being forced to rapidly adapt to the constantly evolving (often worsening) situation. People don’t know if their symptoms are those of the cold, flu or coronavirus; even worse, they don’t know if they can get tested. Is it safe to go out? Is it safe to see your doctor? Hospitals are being overrun with coronavirus patients, making it difficult to provide care for anyone else and limiting health care visits to those that are considered essential. And, health care workers are being asked to work longer shifts, without appropriate personal protective equipment. This means the very people we rely on to care are being infected at high rates, straining the already stretched system.
Telemedicine is already helping patients seek care for potential coronavirus across the country and provides the perfect opportunity to limit exposure for patients and health staff alike. Plus, with remote visits, we can ease the burden on hospitals and emergency rooms. Ready to contribute your telemedicine services but don’t know where to start? Here, we’ll go through some ideas to facilitate integrating telemedicine into your COVID-19 preparedness plans:
Communicate with Your Patients
Patients aren’t going to use a service that they don’t know about. Make sure your virtual services are front and center. They should be included as the first point of contact for all of your facilities, including primary care, orthopedics and urgent care. Remember that most telehealth services can treat patients as young as 6 months, so your pediatric offices should be kept in the loop as well.
In any outbreak, it is common for fear and uncertainty to influence actions. Therefore, when describing your services, make sure your patients can easily identify the appropriate course of action. Establish clearly documented workflows to offer unbiased care for patients who have heightened anxiety about symptoms common with the coronavirus. This allows providers who know the guidelines for virtual screening to more efficiently direct patients to testing or the best place of care.
Two separate hospitals we’re currently working with have established the following workflows, which you can use for inspiration. This first example provides triaging only, while the second incorporates conditional COVID-19 diagnostic testing.
Consider offering your services at a discounted rate. Patients who are cost-sensitive may have a difficult time deciding if they can receive the care they need from home. Removing this barrier to access will greatly increase the opportunities you have to prevent potential exposure within your hospital.
These workflows are only successful in the presence of strong relationships with local health authorities. Public health, emergency management and emergency department services all play a vital role. Through the RelyMD Rapid Response solution, RelyMD’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bobby Park recently spoke with a patient who tested positive for COVID-19 and required follow-up care. We reduced exposure to this patient by involving all parties during his transition from home to the ICU.
After testing positive and choosing to quarantine at home, this patient was given information from the public health department on how to access our services should he need remote medical advice for worsening symptoms. After experiencing an alarming change in respiratory status, he followed their instructions to contact RelyMD: he remained at home, connected with a doctor and was directed to seek in-person care. This was accomplished without coming into physical contact with another patient or a healthcare worker.
By following care coordination protocols developed by our Medical Director in accordance with CDC and WHO guidelines and in partnership with local health authorities, Dr. Park quickly connected with the Chief Medical Officer, emergency department team, ICU team and head of infectious disease at the patient’s local hospital via a single conference call.
We collectively planned the private hospital entrance in which he should enter and the medical team that would be prepared to care for him, while minimizing exposure for all. Dr. Park informed the patient of the parking area and that he would be greeted at his car by medical staff in proper attire and with equipment.
Communicate with Your Staff
Your healthcare workers are on the front line of this pandemic. Not only do they need to remain healthy but you also need them to communicate effectively with patients. For the former, provide free access to the service for your healthcare workers. With 24/7 access, they can receive care no matter what shift they’re on.
To help with patient communication, inform your workers about the telemedicine option and provide them with the right materials to share with patients. This extends beyond just patients who might need monitoring for worsening symptoms to those who have been admitted for a procedure or another illness and require follow-on post-op care. Keeping them out of the hospital reduces their risk of future infection.
Augment Your Staff
Many health care organizations are experiencing a shortage of staff due to exposure, illness or the need to look after family members. Physicians and physician assistants at home for quarantine or other reasons could still provide virtual care. Train them on the service to help flatten the curve.
Now is the Time
As the number of cases continue to exponentially increase, the demand for telemedicine for all patients is likely to increase. Start offering virtual visits now to stay ahead of the curve and create a smoother transition. We’ve already observed the ability of telehealth to actively triage positive patients, negative patients, patients with exposure risks, patients hoping to avoid exposure and the healthcare providers working hard to treat them all.
RelyMD is a growing digital health company that provides a coordinated telehealth solution to health systems, managed care organizations, and employers. Founded by a group of innovative emergency medicine physicians and healthcare entrepreneurs, we’re on a mission to simplify people’s lives by delivering reliable, trusted medical care – anytime and anywhere – that fosters healthier communities and workplaces. Learn how RelyMD can help address COVID-19 concerns for your patients and healthcare workers.
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Chapel Hill, NC 27517