The pandemic has left an undeniable bruise on us all over the last two and a half years. That fear, frustration, and uncertainty won’t soon be forgotten. But, in an effort to see the glass half-full, it’s also important to acknowledge that there have been some valuable lessons learned.
Many of us became master bakers of sourdough or just better home cooks spending so much time in our own kitchens. If you transformed your spare bedroom into a home office, then it’s likely your work-casual wardrobe shifted to include more comfy options. Much like we had to adapt during this time, changes were taking place within the healthcare industry, too.
Since the early days of the pandemic and still, during surges, providers have continued to face a difficult problem: How do we provide care during a pandemic when hospitals are no longer safe places to be? In response to this quandary, the healthcare industry is embarking upon a technology revolution, one that the pandemic exacerbated more quickly than anyone could have anticipated.
What is Telehealth?
The value of home-first healthcare may not have been realized so soon had it not been for Covid-19. Almost overnight, people with symptoms who would usually flock to hospitals were told to stay in place. Entire hospital wings were filled with Covid patients and anyone who wasn’t in a critical state was asked to manage their symptoms from home. It was clear that an in-between was needed. That was when the benefits of telehealth suddenly came into focus.
Imagine a simple, handheld device that stays in your home medicine cabinet until you need to monitor your health or visit with a doctor. The Fluent SmartExam™ is now available via a specialized pilot program. Residents of California, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington are eligible to purchase the Fluent SmartExam Pilot Package that includes the device and two virtual care visits with the option to purchase additional care visits a la carte as needed.
All you have to do is grab your SmartExam and connect it to the app. The device includes a stethoscope to record heart, lung and abdominal sounds, a thermometer, an otoscope for your ear canal, an oximeter to measure pulse and oxygen level, and a smartphone app to capture and communicate all of that clinical health information to a health provider. You can even photograph or record mouth, throat and skin issues and securely share these exams with a doctor.
That’s the concept behind telehealth; it’s a way to perform a routine doctor’s visit from the comfort of home. And in a pandemic world where lockdowns and restrictions make travel complicated, telehealth has proven to be the perfect solution.
The Future of Telehealth
Now that we’re slowly entering the post-pandemic era, are people continuing to opt for telehealth? You bet they are! With pre-pandemic numbers only hovering around 11% in 2019, today up to 46% of consumers are starting with telehealth before making physical appointments in the doctor's office. The same study noted a more recent analysis indicating that telehealth use has increased 38-fold what it was before COVID-19. And again, by April 2020, virtual office visits and outpatient care were 78 times higher than in February 2020.
There are several benefits to this new technology that patients value:
- Convenience: The stress and anxiety of living through a pandemic have affected us. Telehealth is a low-stress convenient first step to learn more about your symptoms and then decide if making a trip to the doctor is necessary. This is especially important for those with mobility issues and people living in rural areas.
- Affordability: Studies show that telehealthcare is more cost-effective than traditional doctor’s visits, particularly when it comes to psychiatric care, radiology, and home healthcare.
- A better option for pediatric care: Studies indicate that school-based telehealth reduces absenteeism, improves patient satisfaction, offers cost savings, reduces emergency department visits, and saves time for parents
- Emphasis on whole-person healthcare: Mental and emotional health have taken a front seat during the pandemic. According to a 2020 study, the highest uptick in telehealth was in the field of psychiatry, which went up 50 percent, and substance use treatment, increasing by 30 percent.
How do Doctors Feel about Telehealth?
From the point of view of healthcare professionals, there can be pros and cons to digital visits. One benefit is that telehealth can reduce the pressure hospitals face, especially in emergency departments. A recent study estimates that up to 20% of emergency room visits and 24% of office and outpatient visits could be shifted to virtual care. The ability to reallocate healthcare resources more efficiently is a plus. And with less pressure on staff, patient experience can be improved.
“Having a diagnostic tool at home can really aid in guiding the physician. The ability to actually listen to your lungs and heart, as well as looking into your throat and ears makes a big difference in a telehealth visit exam. This provides a better, more objective physical exam,” Dr. Jisue Coye, MD and Fluent Medical Advisor
Doctors also want to ensure that patients feel comfortable with the devices they’re using at home for telehealth visits. It’s recommended that before you set up an appointment, you spend time learning how to use telehealth hardware and software if you’re working through an app.
As we move closer and closer towards a more digital future, telehealth is expected to become an important part of our personal healthcare monitoring. Not only do digital visits offer less stress and more convenience, but the cost-effective aspects can’t be overlooked. Insurance coverage and reimbursements for physical visits can be complex. As patients wait for the healthcare and insurance industries to catch up with one another, a lower-cost virtual-first option like the SmartExam offers a way to get the answers you need without the wait.