Using telemedicine for coronavirus

Introduction

As the incidence of the novel Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) rapidly increases on a daily basis, public furor and anxiety has reached unprecedented levels. Indeed, in the United States (US) alone, the incidence of COVID-19 has escalated many-fold in just one month alone – latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) place 108 confirmed and presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in the US. As of 5th March 2020, the world is placed on the cusp of a global pandemic, and the impact of this nefarious disease is being felt on financial markets and international tourism. Today, there are close to over 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases globally, and over 3,000 fatalities reported.

The CDC has published timely reports and circulars which convey evidence-based preventative methods as regards the spread of COVID-19. These include minimizing travel outside of the home setting, avoiding large community events and mass gatherings, as well as maintaining personal hygiene standards such as frequent hand-washing and not touching one’s face and eyes with one’s hands. The efforts to curtail the spread and impact of COVID-19 have been spearheaded internationally as well; the World Health Organisation (WHO) has promulgated live-webinars and online learning modules which detail infection prevention and control measures. Several schools and institutions of higher learning have implemented online learning, and employers have been encouraged to allow workers to function off-site and perform their duties remotely.

These measures are sound, as the rationale underpinning them is to minimize human-to-human transmission; this is an important consideration as people harboring the novel Coronavirus may not necessarily exhibit symptoms. In this article, we explore the value proposition of a novel telemedical digital solution in buttressing the national and global efforts to thwart the spread of COVID-19.

Telemedicine & COVID-19

Telemedical solutions facilitate the distribution of health-related services and information across distances and ensure connected care for patients through digital communication technologies. Doxy.me is a simple, free and secure telemedicine solution which overcomes traditional barriers to health such as location, access to reliable transportation and the lack of healthcare providers. The merits of telemedicine have been explored, validated and championed in several healthcare institutions in the US alone, but how can a solution like Doxy.me be applied meaningfully in the context of COVID-19?

First, by virtue of being a telemedical solution, virtual visits conducted via Doxy.me are significantly more affordable than in-patient visits. It naturally follows that patients seen on Doxy.me can benefit from more frequent assessments by a healthcare provider as traditional barriers such as distance and transportation are eliminated.

Second, our front-line physicians today are chiefly at risk, considering that they interact with patients harboring symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection on a daily basis. Removing the physical presence of patients may facilitate a safer environment for our front-line healthcare staff. Likewise, patients who have upper respiratory tract symptoms such as a cough, can mitigate against the risk of transmission by avoiding emergency departments or busy family practice offices where the unwell congregate.

Third, the quality of care is not compromised by a virtual visit. Patients who are seen by licensed physicians on Doxy.me have the benefit of an uninterrupted and dedicated session, where a thorough history and evaluation is conducted. High-definition video and audio ensures that communication between the physician and patient is not compromised, and that the patient-physician relationship is respected. Physicians support the historical information with physiological parameters (e.g. self-reported temperature) to make informative preliminary diagnoses and assessments.

Finally, patients who have been quarantined at home because of a suspected COVID-19 infection can retain high-quality access to care via Doxy.me virtual visits.

COVID-19 – A New Dawn for Telemedicine

Never has the value proposition for telemedicine been stronger. As Dr. Brandon Welch, Assistant Professor in Biomedical Informatics at the Medical University of South Carolina puts it, “We live in a new age where we are increasingly connected virtually, but separated physically. Doxy.me provides patients with a virtual clinic experience that is strongly reminiscent of the traditional consultative model, but without the barriers associated with a brick-and-mortar clinic”.

Recently published studies suggest that COVID-19 has a far lower mortality rate than the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus of 2002. Nevertheless, risk factors for mortality arising from the novel Coronavirus include male sex, extremes of age, a compromised immune system, and multiple medical comorbidities (e.g. diabetes, hypertension, chronic obstructive lung disease and congestive cardiac failure). Patients who have one or more risk factors could be considered to be prime candidates for telemedical solutions, and are well placed to capitalize on the offerings made by Doxy.me.

Concerns regarding data security and privacy can be assuaged by the fact that Doxy.me is HIPAA compliant and uses encrypted point-to-point connections. Video consultations are not stored as data and patients can rest assured that their Doxy.me consultations are respected with the same degree of confidentiality as an in-office visit.

Brandon Welch

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