Telehealth is a Critical Part of the Covid-19 Solution

We have had one case of Covid-19 so far in Massachusetts, and there is one reported case in Rhode Island. I am ambivalent about the media coverage on this virus. On the one hand, it has undoubtedly helped with containment efforts. However, I do wish the media would use less sensational descriptors when reporting on the illness. While we don’t fully understand how the virus spreads, according to The New England Journal of Medicine, reported a lower fatality rate. So it is with some trepidation that I add my voice to the thousands clogging the Internet. Still, I do so in hopes of getting the word out about a vital tool for healthcare delivery, as we prepare for large volumes of worried patients descending on our healthcare facilities.

That tool is telehealth. Recent data from the American Hospital Association shows that 76% of hospitals reported that they have telehealth capabilities. This is from 2017, so the rate is most likely higher now. Anecdotally, I have heard of hospitals that are implementing telehealth as a screening procedure for patients presenting with symptoms that could be from Covid-19, proactively contacting patients with flu and cold symptoms who had scheduled in-person visits to do video visits instead. Other hospitals are moving individuals to an isolation room, and their intake and initial evaluation is done via videoconferencing.

Two organizations I am closely affiliated with are doing their part, as we organize as a nation.

First, on Feb 28, ATA joined forces with several other digital medicine focused organizations to send a letter to congressional leaders. The letter urged Congress to consider Sec. 9 of the CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 (S. 2741/H.R. 4932) in the upcoming COVID-19 supplemental legislation, which would empower the Secretary of Health and Human Services to waive telehealth restrictions for Medicare beneficiaries during national emergencies. I RECOMMEND USING ANY INFLUENCE YOU HAVE TO GET THIS PROVISION ADOPTED. IT WILL SAVE LIVES.

Also, Springer Nature is fast-tracking manuscripts related to Covid-19. This includes npj Digital Medicine, where I am Editor-in-Chief. Springer Nature is also making all research on the virus free to download.

 

One thing that is heartening about our situation is that there is already both a vaccine and a therapy in testing.

 

We all have a part to play in battling this new virus. From basic hand hygiene and coughing etiquette to contacting our legislators and doing our part to move the science forward.