Are you sick? Try Zoom!
With close to 100,000,000 official COVID-19 cases in the United States, 96,640,059 cases to be exact, it is no surprise that close to 75% of all hospitals, Emergency Rooms, and Critical Care Centers exceeded their capacities. In fact, 30% - 59% of all beds since 2020 were occupied by COVID-19 patients, varying only by Treatment center type and location by State. The obvious solution to this immense rush of patients was to expand facilities equipped to aid ailing patients. Many healthcare providers relied upon this solution during the early stages of the Pandemic, illustrated by the rampant increase in the number of Pop-Up ERs, temporary wings dedicated to COVID-19 Patients, and other expansive efforts. Yet, they run into the original issue of running out of space only after a few months.
The issue of overcrowding forced Healthcare providers to rearrange priorities to best suit needs, as other medical issues still ran rampant. With both COVID-19 patients and other patients stampeding through Hospitals, medical professionals experienced severe burnout, physical harm (from exposure to patients while lacking Personal Protective Equipment due to the global shortage), and extreme mental trauma. This placed Healthcare providers in a tough position as they were dealing with dwindling staff and a rising number of patients. In a last-ditch effort to combat this disastrous issue, Healthcare providers relied on Telemedicine, the distribution of medical services through Telecommunication technologies.
Even you might have experienced Telemedicine without knowing about its impact. If you were sick during the Pandemic and hopped on a Zoom call or any special app on your computer or phone rather than go to a doctor, you have experienced Telemedicine. Most of the critical issues faced by Healthcare providers dissolved through Telemedicine. With patients receiving care from their homes, there was no need for extra space, as they could treat and quarantine themselves without the aid of the Hospital resources. Along with the meteoric rise of Telemedicine, companies that focus on medication delivery (Amazon Pharmacy, InstaCart, PillPack, NowRx, etc.) thrived. Patients could stay at their homes through these third-party sites and receive all necessary care. Telemedicine also served as a screening phase that allowed doctors to choose which patients to see at the Hospital (patients who needed hospital resources for efficient treatment). Telemedicine also allowed physicians unable to work at the hospitals, whether due to burnout, physical harm, or mental trauma, to still work from the comfort of their house. Overall, as Telemedicine reduced the number of incoming patients, hospital resources were diverted to the needs of critical COVID-19 patients, and other non-COVID-19 patients and physicians were safer holistically.
However, Telemedicine is not all good. Telemedicine has three main disadvantages. The first disadvantage is the most obvious one: there are many conditions and situations where virtual treatment is not an option. This is addressed by the screening feature of Telemedicine, where physicians use Telemedicine to treat as many non-critical cases as possible outside of the hospital, resulting in only critical patients coming to the hospital(reducing traffic and man hours). The second disadvantage is the transmission aspect of Telemedicine. For a patient to receive care through Telemedicine, a physician might have to receive patient information through the internet. This large privacy and security issue has no real solution other than further encrypting the data. The leaking of patient information is an inherent risk that the patient runs while receiving Telemedicine care. The third disadvantage is the cost aspect of Telemedicine. Telemedicine is a relatively new concept in the healthcare industry, only becoming prominent due to the pandemic. This means that only a few insurance plans cover Telemedicine for their patients, resulting in most patients paying out of pocket for the expenses.
Furthermore, Telemedicine has existed as a concept since the early 2000s. Yet many healthcare professionals deemed it too gimmicky for effective treatment. While dissent for Telemedicine was reduced during the Pandemic, it still exists. Many physicians bring up the philosophical precedent that states medicine requires a patient and a physician in a room together because real medicine requires the interaction of two people present to each other. This issue finds its roots in the barrier that Telemedicine places between the healthcare provider and patient. Physicians cannot pick up on the same things during virtual meetings as they do in physical ones, building on the first disadvantage of Telemedicine stated above. Fortunately for Telemedicine, the Pandemic forced physicians to adopt the practice, and the results how that it is a great tool if used carefully and only as a supplement to regular medicine.
After the impressive success of Telemedicine, one can only wonder about its potential. In our current world, where technology is ever-improving, it is only a matter of time before a breakthrough will make Telemedicine more prominent than today. All we can do now, is sit tight and wait!