Telemedicine During COVID-19: Digital Care, Actual Health
Telemedicine or telehealth has been growing steadily with the internet age. In a time of COVID-19, the need for and use of it has only grown - as people are removed from in-person access to care while the need for healthcare has only grown.
What Is Telemedicine
Telemedicine literally means “healing at a distance.” The World Health Organization defines telemedicine as “The delivery of health care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all health care professionals using information and communication technologies for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment and prevention.” Healthcare providers connect to patients by phone or online, saving the need for an in-person clinic, office, or emergency room visit.
As the name implies, telemedicine is remote care - yet in some cases is just as effective as in-person care. A rapid review of 20 systematic reviews and meta-analyses shows that telemedicine is equivalent to in-person care for certain conditions including mental health, rehabilitation and dermatology in terms of assessment and treatment. It has been used successfully in treatment of IBS as well, with 42% reduction in IBS symptoms of study participants versus 12% increase in control group.
Why Is Telemedicine Useful
More than being the same but remote, telemedicine has other benefits.
Speed and Convenience
Without the need to advance schedule and commute to in-person visits, people can receive telemedicine services 24/7 from home or anywhere. A study analyzing one of the largest telemedicine providers in the US found that their system increased access to healthcare with 34% of visits occurring on weekends and holidays, and 21% made by patients who had not used healthcare in a year.
There is some data that indicates that telehealth can result in successful resolution of simple cases. In that same study, patients who used telehealth were less likely to have a follow-up visit - either via telehealth or in person - than others who visited a doctor’s office or the emergency department.
Without the need for in-person visitations, patients can also get access to sub-specialists who may be located away from their region. Established healthcare provider systems like Mount Sinai, Cleveland Clinic, and Jefferson Health use remote consultations in cases like strokes and other emergencies requiring a specialist's opinion.
Telemedicine has been effective at treating people with IBS as well. A randomized controlled trial showed that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) based on mindfulness and exposure techniques was effective in people with IBS when delivered via the internet. Individuals who followed this five-step online CBT protocol (in the course of ten weeks) reported a significant 42% decrease in IBS-symptoms (vs 12% increase of symptoms in the control group), an improved quality of life and gastrointestinal (GI)-specific anxiety.
Why Telemedicine Is Important During COVID-19
During the COVID-19 pandemic, simple physical distance becomes another benefit of telemedicine. The New England Journal of Medicine puts it simply, “Direct-to-consumer (or on-demand) telemedicine is both patient-centered and conducive to self-quarantine, and it protects patients, clinicians, and the community from exposure.”
Telemedicine during COVID-19 is useful in two ways:
If one has a mild case of COVID-19 or isn’t certain if they have it, telemedicine becomes a valuable tool.
Treat at home. Early reports indicate that roughly 80% of COVID-19 patients of all ages experience mild illness and can be managed at home with close monitoring (case-by-case basis). In milder cases, doctors can frequently provide the same level of care via telehealth as when done in person.
Avoid exposure. The CDC advises contacting a nurse, doctor, or another medical professional for advance screening prior to visiting an office or hospital if in doubt about one’s COVID-19 status. Alternatively, one can use the CDC’s COVID-19 self-checker.
Access To Non-COVID-19-Focused Care
Outside of COVID-19, life continues - with all its common aches and pains. More, common aches and pains are often growing during COVID-19, due to the exacerbating effect of stress. For instance, stress from COVID-19 can play a role in worsening sleep quality or IBS symptoms.
While some procedures require in person treatment, many conditions can still be treated by telemedicine. In some cases, quarantined doctors can still provide remote care by converting scheduled clinic visits to telemedicine visits. If one’s healthcare professional is not available, one can access different providers or types of care via telemedicine.
Goodpath has been practicing telemedicine from its beginning. Our medical team is comprised of doctors, pharmacists, physical therapists, dietitians, and more. Their disciplines all combine to create integrative care that is personalized to each person’s IBS, troubled sleep, or back pain. All of this is accessed from home or anywhere, directly by consumers - no insurer or doctor referral required.
Click here for more information about how stress during COVID-19 can affect sleep, back pain, or IBS.