COVID-19 forces a paradigm shift
It may not be on a par with the introduction of x-rays, penicillin, or genetic analysis, but the sudden increase in the use of telehealth technologies in response to the coronavirus pandemic constitutes a paradigm shift for medical providers everywhere.
The challenge that has brought about this shift is familiar to science. Coronaviruses — some of which cause the common cold — were first identified in the 1930s and given their name in the 1960s because of their crownlike appearance under an electron microscope.
But when the COVID-19 strain appeared in China late last year, it did mark a new kind of threat. That’s because the virus echoed the deadly Spanish flu of 1918-19, while spreading still more rapidly on a globalized transportation system unlike anything that existed a century ago.
Rapid change across specialties
The good news for humanity is this: The globalization that allowed COVID-19 to spread so far so quickly also underlies the things necessary to combat it. Those include scientific collaboration, advanced drug therapies, fast-track development of potential vaccines, and telehealth solutions that can bring providers and patients together for remote visits that carry no risk of infection.
Providers and staff, in both primary care and specialties, have set aside skepticism and doubts, rolled up their sleeves, and embraced new ways of doing business.
- In wide-open Texas, where patients might have to drive for hours to reach their doctor, practices such as TexomaCare and MD TruCare have shifted nearly all visits to telehealth.
- Specialists such as Kansas Medical Center and Healing Hands of Nebraska are reaching patients who live in other states and overseas.
- During a pandemic that has raised concerns for so many, APLA Health has been effective mental health counseling via televisits, while Women’s Care Florida has been able to help moms-to-be anxious about their future.
Reassurance during a time of crisis
Whatever their specialty, practice style, or ability to adapt to new technologies, providers turning to telehealth consistently report that they are surprised by how effective it can be, often in ways they didn’t think possible.
Even more importantly, however, they and their patients are pleased by how reassuring it is to have a face-to-face encounter. The method of achieving the visit may be new to many, but the focus remains on the healing interaction. Medications are being prescribed, labs and x-rays are being ordered, and medical devices are being delivered to patients’ doors. Reassurance is being offered. Specialists are accurately sizing up the urgency of the problems they see.
Those things are happening largely from the comfort and safety of homes and offices, with far fewer miles traveled, less inconvenience for patients, and far less risk for spreading a dangerous virus.
In time, the coronavirus pandemic will ease. Despite many painful losses for society, the healthcare landscape will in some critical ways have been changed for the better, with human ingenuity once again having developed new ways to deliver the ageless values of healing.