Lessons Learned About the Use of Telemedicine During a Global Viral Outbreak
2020 has brought some of society’s greatest fears to life. While global outbreaks of deadly viruses have been experienced throughout history, COVID-19 was the first to occur in a generation defined by technological advancement.
It is this very quality, paired with the swift pivot and reapplication of existing technologies, that allowed the world to create a concerted, effective response to the current crisis. While many mistakes were and continue to be made in responding to COVID-19, one area that saw permanent, positive advancement was the field of medical care provision.
Telemedicine’s Potential Realized
The requirement for personal isolation and quarantining presented the perfect opportunity for the development and strengthening of remote medical care provision. While this technology is not new, the appreciation and strategic application of telemedicine came to the forefront during, and in active response to, the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a situation where countless aspects of our work and lifestyle have come to a complete standstill, telemedicine has provided a way to maintain interruption-free medical care, in ways that actually improve traditional systems and overall accessibility to care.
While the benefits of telemedicine are now becoming widely recognized and sought after, reaching this point was the product of trial, error, and innovative efforts to solve world-wide challenges.
Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic
At the end of 2019 when the SARS-CoV-2 virus, later to be known as COVID-19, spread rapidly nationwide in China, the burden on the Chinese medical system was dangerously unsustainable.
As COVID-19 cases surged, it was clear that the already over-burdened Chinese healthcare system would not be able to cope with the onslaught of COVID-19 patients, in addition to all other citizens accessing healthcare. New measures (https://vimeo.com/439363951) and policies would have to be implemented to control the outbreak, as well as to meet all other medical needs.
Telehealth to the Rescue
This need for immediate innovation in providing access to healthcare led to the strategic and comprehensive application of telehealth technologies and services. These technologies needed to both curb the spread of the virus while maintaining routine healthcare services during the apex of the pandemic. To accomplish this, the National Telemedicine Center of China (NTCC) responded quickly in collaboration with government and non-government institutions, establishing a network of 126 hospitals in a doctor-to-doctor (D2D) approach. Through their efforts, a successful 3-layer Telemedicine program was created:
Telemedicine Service Platform Layer: this layer enabled COVID-19 experts to have remote access to hospitals and care centers. This was accomplished through wireless remote patient monitoring, remote multiple disciplinary care, and the application of Telehealth to education and training, including live interactive video conferencing.
Telemedicine Cloud Layer: this layer allowed for the completely remote registration, capture, and analysis of patient medical records, which allowed information to be processed from anywhere to determine clinical guidelines.
Telemedicine Service Application Layer: this layer, which included 2 provincial hospitals, 18 municipal hospitals and 106 county-level hospitals, allowed these centres to obtain consultations from specialized treatment teams. This provided unprecedented access to specialists and expert criteria even for first-level care centers.
Results of Telehealth Intervention
As a result of this program, 63 severe and 693 mild cases of respiratory infections were treated in just 21 days through telemedicine alone. These efforts reduced the level of exposure to COVID-19 experienced by healthcare professionals, resulting in reduced infection for both patients and providers. In addition, patients were able to receive multidisciplinary and specialized care that would have been otherwise inaccessible to them during this period.
Beyond curbing the rate of infection during the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth also allowed non-COVID patients to upkeep their care in effective, and even improved, ways. Even when hospitals were overwhelmed, and leaving home meant risking infection, telehealth services created the opportunity for around the clock, interruption-free medical care, from anywhere.
Expansion of RPM
While telehealth has provided life-saving resources during a global pandemic, its capacity far outreaches temporary crises. The transition to remote care necessitated by COVID-19 has further demonstrated its potential in countless areas within the field of clinical medicine. These arenas range from the remote monitoring of patients with diabetes and chronic, life-threatening conditions, to the management of pregnancy and post-operative care.
Like disruption in any industry, telehealth has created new expectations and opportunities for both patients and providers. Patients now want and expect remote patient services, and the convenience they create over traditional methods of healthcare provision.
While COVID-19 required a complex, large-scale response for Telehealth to function, clinics within the United States can implement their own RPM programs within 24 hours, without having to personally manage the challenges of planning and deployment.
To find out more about how your clinic can start and scale its own Remote Patient Monitoring service, and how Accuhealth can help, visit accuhealth.tech