The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way healthcare works. While many providers and patients rely on traditional in-office appointments, the highly contagious coronavirus is causing healthcare providers to use telehealth to treat patients virtually.
For some, this isn’t a new practice. Many doctors in rural communities already use telehealth to treat their patients. However, for urban areas that rely mostly on in-office visits, using telehealth is unfamiliar.
Advantages of Telehealth
Protecting Providers and Patients
Telehealth means providers and patients do not have to interact face-to-face in an office setting. Eliminating contact as much as possible with others is the best way to protect healthcare providers and patients from getting sick.
Protecting the Community
Typically when someone is ill they venture to their doctor’s office. They touch door handles to enter the building, perhaps press an elevator button, then they use a pen to fill out their patient information before finding a seat right next to another patient and flip through magazines at the office.
Because COVID-19 is so contagious, the simple act of seeking care at a doctor’s office for symptoms of a virus can mean placing many more people at risk of becoming infected. Telehealth enables patients to receive care virtually without potentially contributing to the spread of illness.
Less of a Hassle
Telehealth is often used in rural communities where patients may have a very long commute for an in-person office visit with their provider. However, as society becomes more technology-driven and urban areas become more familiar with telehealth, it is proving to be an easy way for patients to receive care from the comfort of their homes.
To access a telehealth appointment, patients use their desktop or mobile device to click on a link to the virtual waiting room. Once the doctor is ready, the patient is connected via video. From there, it’s like a normal appointment where the doctor discusses the illness and prescribes a treatment plan for the patient.
Disadvantages of Telehealth
Unable to test for COVID-19 and other illnesses
One of the most inconvenient parts of telehealth is not being able to test patients for illnesses even if they are displaying the right symptoms. The best a provider can do in this situation is recommend that the patient receives testing at a local healthcare facility. However, if the illness is not related to COVID-19, the doctor can prescribe appropriate medication to treat it.
The provider and patient relationship changes
Doctors and patients are used to interacting face-to-face. In-office appointments tend to feel more personal and patients may have an easier time connecting with their doctor.
Unfortunately, communicating via video chat can make the encounter feel distant and less connective for both patients and providers. Not being able to evaluate patients physically may also make some doctors less comfortable with the limitations of care they can provide virtually.
Technology may be hard for some patients to use
Another thing to consider is accessibility for patients. While many patients can figure out how to use the technology required for telehealth appointments, other patients, such as the elderly, may struggle to operate video technology. In this case, it is always important to have in-office or home visits as an option for patients who need it most.