More than 12 million people around the globe are now infected with the SARS-Cov 2 virus, more commonly known as COVID-19. More than 500,000 patients have died while at least seven million have fully recovered from the disease. A mad rush is now on among pharmaceutical giants to produce an effective and safe vaccine. While the world waits for the vaccine, people are resting their hope and trust in 21st-century medicine and health care. While much is still unknown about the virus, doctors are confident that some medical interventions now being used have helped thousands, if not millions.
Many hospitals have also invested in health care innovations, taking the time to hire companies that specialize in Information Technology (IT). Firms like Lumos Consulting Inc. help hospitals leverage IT to enhance the range and reach of their health care services. By customizing the IT infrastructure, hospitals gain the advantage of providing high-resolution imaging for their diagnostic and surgery tasks. Doctors also use the computer networks to deliberate on laboratory findings, treatment options, and other solutions that they can offer to patients. At the same time, the IT consultants also help the hospital safeguard the privacy of the patient database and other institutional records.
Still, perhaps the most powerful impact of using information technology is seen in the use of telemedicine. Doctors and other members of the healthcare team from various hospitals collaborate with patients, fellow practitioners, and IT specialists to provide ‘healing beyond borders.’ Using computer and information technology, health care is now made more accessible through the use of the Internet, video conferencing, and data-sharing applications all done in real-time and online.
But what is the reality on the ground? How can telemedicine bridge the current gaps in health services in response to the pandemic?
Even in economically advanced countries with access to technology, the Forward Triage is still the primary means of initial assessment and classification of patients, particularly those who walk into emergency rooms, infirmaries, and large hospitals. In the triage area, people are examined and asked several questions to determine the severity of their signs and symptoms. The assessment helps the triage team to prioritize who should go in first to confer with a doctor and other specialists.
Rooted from the French word trier, which translates to the act of selection or separation (or breaking something into three parts), the triage method was first used during the First World War. There is also evidence that a similar procedure was used as a health care procedure in Ancient Egypt. In simplest terms, the triage team seeks to determine three things: who is likely to live, who is unlikely to live, and who will most likely attain a good result or medical outcome if medical attention is given. In short, triage helps health care providers prioritize patients, allocate facilities and supplies, and queue people who need to see medical specialists.
The reality, however, in a pandemic situation, people are afraid of going out due to the threat of viral infections. Government-imposed protocols and lockdowns also make it challenging for people to move about and get the medical advice they need. As the current situation in hospitals around the world show, it is also time-consuming to wait for one’s turn given the number of hospital admissions related to COVID-19 and other diseases that continue to plague societies today.
Reaching Out to Patients at Home
The mass production of computers and communication devices have made these gadgets more affordable to more people across the globe. In fact, even in the poorest economies, people can no longer go without a smartphone or a tablet. Having a smart device that is capable of sending and receiving calls, text messages, and video is now a matter of course, or simply a given. No doubt, having access to computers and telephony plus video sharing applications is a necessity. Aside from the obvious entertainment and communication value of these gadgets, these devices are now used to save people’s lives.
Gone are the days of the friendly neighborhood doctor who makes home calls to patients. Getting a doctor’s appointment is still preferred by many, but using technology to make a quick consultation is now more accepted and used.
During lockdowns, hospitals with IT networks and video conferencing tools can reach out to patients who are at home. This is a major advantage for those with mild and even moderate symptoms who are concerned for their health but do not yet consider themselves as emergency cases.
Health Care on the Web, Across the Globe
Referred to as direct-to-consumer or health care-online, telemedicine enables patients to speak with and hear from their doctor even if they are separated across the miles, or even when they are oceans apart, from different time zones. Using audio-video technology and digital networks that store patient records and test results (x-rays and MRIs), doctors can now share their prognosis and diagnosis immediately, with no physical on-site presence required from them or their patients.
Long after the pandemic has gone, the health care industry and its practitioners are expected to use more and more of this technology to deliver information and services to ensure public health. People will become more accustomed to online network technology in a medical service context, making it more ubiquitous in the years to come. We are now probably seeing the ‘new normal’ in health care.