Telehealth and virtual care potential beyond COVID-19

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There is value of telehealth and virtual healthcare to not only prevent contagious diseases but to provide access to effective and equitable care, according to new research published in the journal npj Digital Medicine.

According to author Lee Schwamm, MD, director of the Center for TeleHealth at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, virtual care, by collapsing the barriers of time and distance, is ideal for providing care that is patient-centered, lower cost, more convenient, and with greater productivity than traditional methods for delivering care, especially during a pandemic.

The findings describe the scope and scale of virtual care innovation and provide guidance to other healthcare systems on implementing virtual care tools and addressing challenges to their use during and after the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Schwamm and colleagues describe in greater depth two pivotal innovations in virtual care delivery for hospitalized patients, virtual rounds and a virtual intercom communication system.

Virtual rounds seek to redesign traditional medical rounds, where large numbers of healthcare workers are frequently huddled together around a computer screen or test result to discuss treatment options. With virtual rounds as a means of so-called medical distancing, one or two healthcare workers are physically present on a hospital ward, while all other multidisciplinary team members join remotely from home or other locations in the hospital.

The virtual intercom communication system allows clinicians to monitor and communicate with patients over video screens from anywhere in the hospital and present a human face to isolated patients whose only other personal contact is typically with providers who are fully gowned, masked, and gloved.

"These approaches have allowed us to deliver exceptional care during a time of mass contagion,” said Schwamm in a statement, “while preserving personal protective equipment in short supply, reducing exposure time of staff, and engaging in compassionate and reassuring encounters over video sessions whenever care is required.”

Editor’s note: Click here for more information and ongoing COVID-19 updates for integrative healthcare professionals.