The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many, many changes to our daily lives in the last two months, and one of them is the emergence of telemedicine services as a vital part of patient care. While telemedicine, in some form or another, has been available since the 1950s, it failed to become a routine part of medical care until recently.
While most doctor’s offices and healthcare systems are using telemedicine to conduct well-visits and other types of non-emergent care to support social distancing and stay-at-home orders, ChristianaCare, one of the largest healthcare providers in the mid-Atlantic region has put telemedicine to work to support ambulatory COVID-19 patients and particularly those at greatest risk in the community, such as the elderly and socio-economically disadvantaged patients.
The rapid roll-out of the COVID-19 Virtual Care Program has been possible because of a couple of factors – the first being ChristianaCare’s experience in telemedicine prior to the pandemic and a grant from the Federal Communications Commission to support the expansion of infrastructure into the community. “Two years ago, ChristianaCare established a Virtual Primary Care Practice to serve our employees and their families,” shared Sharon Anderson, RN, BSN, MS, FACHE, chief virtual health officer at ChristianaCare. “ChristianaCare also owns CareVio, a population health management company, which has been monitoring the health of over 110,000 individuals and uses audio-video and secure texting to care for the sickest patients including those with chronic disease.
With this experience and a vision of the home as the new venue of care already in place, Anderson and her team were ready for the acceleration that was required by the pandemic. “The safest place right now for our patients is in their home, with telemedicine we can ensure that patients receive the right care, at the right time and in the right place, dramatically lowering the risk of spreading COVID-19,” said Anderson. “However, given that we serve a broad geographic region we knew that not all of our patients were able to access telemedicine services equally.”
With approximately 20 percent of the population in Delaware not able to access broadband and with socio-economically disadvantaged populations at a much greater risk of contracting COVID-19, it was imperative that ChristianaCare be able to connect those communities to telemedicine services as well. Courtesy of a grant from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), ChristianaCare has been able to fund two strategies to support at-risk communities. “ChristianaCare’s CareVio management program uses bi-directional HIPAA-secure text messaging to connect with and monitor patients remotely,” noted Anderson. “The grant will create the opportunity for us to provide smart phones and data plans to patients to facilitate their connection to our telemedicine programs and facilitate care in the patient’s home.”
While these innovations occurred because of the COVID-19 crisis, Anderson sees them as permanent changes for healthcare providers. “It’s very exciting to see how much providers who have just started providing telemedicine visits have embraced it; patients have been very pleased with the increased access to their providers as well,” she shared. “Now that the patient and provider populations are connected, the sky is the limit when it comes to expanding virtual health services from home biometric devices, remote monitoring and other forms of synchronous and asynchronous connections.”