In the past year, the utilization of telemedicine, also known as telehealth, has skyrocketed. The rising coronavirus cases have been accompanied by a heightened risk associated with going into your family physician’s office. Given that concern, telehealth has played a significant role in streamlining medicine.
Telemedicine and COVID-19
Telemedicine can be used as a general term discussing the exchange of medical information and research through technological means to better the health of populations. Given the current circumstances regarding the pandemic, telemedicine is most commonly considered to be the use of remote meetings and consultations with physicians, preferable to making physical visits to the doctor’s office. It was reported that there was a 154% increase in the use of telemedicine in March 2020 compared to March 2019.
The adoption of telemedicine during the pandemic has the obvious benefit of reducing non-essential visits to the doctor while still providing medical assistance to those seeking it. The implications reach beyond that, limiting patient-doctor interactions, conserving personal protective equipment that healthcare workers may have utilized during the interactions, and reducing the overall demand of in-person healthcare facilities.
At the beginning of the pandemic, it seemed that telemedicine was mainly used in the form of either phone or video calls between physicians and patients. With technological advancements and more research into the area, however, telemedicine has developed into forms other than synchronous meetings with physicians. These new forms of telemedicine, outlined later on, have opened a discussion on the practicality of adopting telehealth practices voluntarily rather than out of necessity when in-person visits are not restricted.
There is the possibility of asynchronous use wherein patient information is collected, then interpreted and discussed later, or the option for remote monitoring of patients. The latter has the potential to lower the need for post-operative care taking place within the hospital. It would allow medical professionals to track their patients’ wellbeing while keeping hospital occupancy rates low and allowing patients to recover in the comfort of their own homes.
In an increasingly technological society such as the one we live in today, there is no surprise that telehealth apps have emerged as well. Maple, a virtual healthcare platform based out of Toronto, provides 24/7 virtual access to physicians, operating outside of Ontario’s traditional public healthcare system. Maple utilizes a model similar to that of Uber: physicians control all interactions and appointment bookings, whereas the app works as a middleman to connect patients to medical professionals.