The recent growth of the telemedicine market reflects rapidly developing technology capabilities to remotely diagnose patients and to monitor their status for a number of medical conditions. Multispecialty character of online telemedicine platforms helps address a number of issues faced by healthcare systems worldwide, e.g., rising costs of care, expanding and increasingly complex care needs of aging population, uneven access to quality care, lack of care coordination, and continuity (Senthilingam 2018).
Telemedicine platforms provide anytime-anywhere connection between patients and healthcare providers and enable care coordination (Verizon 2019). As a result, care providers can extend their services to a broader population in an on-demand manner, and patients can benefit from rapid access to the wide range of diagnostic and care options, increasing patient satisfaction and improving outcomes (University of Exeter Research News 2018).
Within the healthcare delivery ecosystem, online telemedicine platforms play an increasingly important role of facilitating professional collaboration and streamlining administrative tasks.
The collaboration between state government and telemedicine platforms could be crucial in both the short and long run. The key reason is that hospital sources are very limited now under the increasing threat of COVID-19, and the current demand for testing and medical care is much higher than the available supplies. Telemedicine is thus an efficient way to coordinate supply with demand and even increase potential supply capacity. The potential functions of telemedicine platforms include conducting triage, assigning risk scores to patients, updating waiting time in testing sites, monitoring mild cases at home, etc.
Under the President’s guideline, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has broadened the access to Medicare telemedicine services so that beneficiaries can receive a wider range of services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility. CMS is now expanding this benefit on a temporary and emergency basis under the 1135 waiver authority and Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. Under this new waiver, Medicare can pay for office, hospital, and other visits furnished via telemedicine across the country and including in patient’s places of residence starting March 6, 2020.
If a telemedicine platform is available to help, patients should be able to get immediate access to triage, consultation, and monitoring. State government can collaborate with telemedicine platforms such as Teladoc to conduct the initial triage. A risk score should be assigned to the patient within three days after accessing all the information available. The patient risk scores should be determined by issues such as how likely they will be tested as positive, the potential outcomes if being confirmed positive, and the potential infection impact of this patient if being confirmed positive. Patients should be matched with testing locations based on the triage of the telemedicine platform, which will take into account patient demographic information (age, gender, etc.), self-reported symptoms, self-reported potential interaction with confirmed cases, etc.
Based on this risk score, the patient would be able to know where to get tested and approximately how long to wait. Waiting times of all possible test sites should be updated in real time and sent to patients who are assigned to these locations through the telemedicine platform. Telemedicine platforms can thus reduce the hospital pressure and limited capacity, and help triage and monitor patients who are kept in quarantine at home.
Senthilingam, M. 2018. Technology is changing the way you see a doctor, but is that good for your health? CNN.
Verizon. 2019. Telehealth unites the healthcare ecosystem. Health IT OUTCOMES. URL https://www.healthitoutcomes. com/doc/telehealth-unites-the-healthcare-ecosystem-0002. Accessed on Apr 7th, 2020.
University of Exeter Research News. 2018. Seeing the same doctor is a matter of life and death URL https://www.exeter. ac.uk/news/research/title_667526_en.html. Accessed on Apr 7th, 2020.