How COVID Disrupted Health Care

COVID-19 has forever changed our lives in a multitude of ways. I remember in the early days of the lockdown last March, on my way to the office, how strange the train ride felt. I had never seen the NYC subway empty on a weekday before. I haven’t sat down at a restaurant in more than a year and I still take precautions whenever I venture outside of the house.

It’s not really about fear for myself. It’s for the sake of my loved ones, like my 80-year old mom, whom I have not seen much in person over the past year. Other than dropping off groceries for her every week, I have had to minimize contact for fear of passing the coronavirus to her. My wife works in a hospital, so we have to be extra careful.

Nevertheless, earlier this year we both caught COVID. I had almost no symptoms and my wife only had some mild flu-like symptoms. Compared to many others, we were very fortunate. I hope all of you out there will continue to stay safe. Hopefully by the end of this year we will be back to normal as we knew it (as much as possible).

Trying Online Doctor Visits

The COVID situation got me to try something for the first time: an online doctor’s visit. After my wife tested positive for COVID at work and developed symptoms, I also tested positive. I let my doctor know and we held a video meeting on Zoom.

Normally I would not consider something like telemedicine because I feel that medical care should be in person, but given the circumstances I gave it a try. It turned out to be quite easy.

The doctor was a few minutes late but it sure beat the normal waiting time at the office. He asked me some questions and gave me advice and we were done in under 15 minutes. Not having to travel to the doctor’s office was also a major plus.

Obviously, an online visit wouldn’t work in every situation, but for certain conditions I can see why an online doctor’s appointment might be preferable. Having tried it once, I think I would not oppose doing it again.

Telemedicine and Telehealth

There’s an official term for getting medical care without being physically in the same place as the health care professional. It’s telemedicine, and a related broader term is telehealth.

Telemedicine specially refers to clinical services delivered over telecom technologies even though the provider and patient are in different locations. This would include my online consultation with my doctor. It would also include things like diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment. Modern telecommunications technology now allows physicians and nurses to render care from thousands of miles away, if needed. Medical images and records are transmitted instantly over a secure broadband connection.

Telehealth, on the other hand, includes telemedicine but also includes non-clinical health-related services. Any kind of health-related service done remotely could be considered telehealth. If they are done remotely, training and education of patients and health care personnel, presentations, and administrative meetings, are examples of telehealth that don’t count as telemedicine.

Why It Makes Sense

For health care providers, telehealth and telemedicine make a lot of sense because remote medical consultations cut down on time and cost. Providers can serve more patients in a day. Digitization replaces the need for cumbersome paperwork.

From the patients’ perspective, being able to talk to one’s doctor from the comfort of his/her own home could make them more likely to seek medical help. The ability for health care professionals to constantly monitor patients’ vitals remotely also should lead to better care.

More than half of health care organizations now offer a telemedicine program, and most of the remaining ones are working on a program. The digitization of health care will likely continue to grow.

The pandemic was a boost to the acceptance of telemedicine. According to one study, telemedicine accounted for 20% of doctor’s visits and 86% of the patients were first-time users. Another study says that between September 2019 and September 2020, the number of telehealth insurance claims grew by 30-fold.

Even though the jump in telemed may have been out of necessity, a portion of the patients who had to try telemedicine, like myself, will be open to using it in the future. Through 2028, it’s estimated that the global telemedicine market could grow by about 20% per year.

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