With most parts of the world at a standstill, the repercussions of the pandemic are being felt across all industries. Social and economic sectors have had to rethink how to deliver their services in times of lockdowns and social distancing. 

The healthcare industry, finding itself at the frontline of the battle, has had to speed up innovation plans that have been years in the making, to implement solutions in as little as two months to help contain the contagion. The sudden and urgent need to find an alternative way of providing professional healthcare while minimizing physical contact has led many governments and health institutions to turn to telemedicine for solutions. 

What is telemedicine?

Telemedicine allows healthcare professionals to provide medical care at a distance using various forms of information and communications technologies. The definition of telemedicine, along with the science, is constantly evolving as new technological advances appear.

Governments in Latin America and around the world have been quick to adopt and regulate telemedicine in their countries. In Barranquilla, Colombia around 60% of medical consultations were made using telemedicine in April. While in Brazil, the Ministry of Health authorized remote pre-clinical care, assistance, support, consultation, monitoring, and diagnosis.

Here are just some of the ways telemedicine can be a gamechanger for the healthcare industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Benefits of telemedicine

A better allocation of resources

Hospitals overwhelmed with cases of COVID-19, are not only dealing with the virus, but also with other patients that require their medical attention and resources. According to a Chinese study, about 80% of coronavirus cases were categorized as mild, meaning that most cases can be treated at home and monitored at a distance. Telemedicine facilitates this type of care, which besides helping reduce the influx of in-person visits, can also help manage spikes in call traffic from patients who require information, want to schedule appointments, or confirm lab results. Many hospitals are turning to chatbots and conversational virtual assistants to help manage these phone consultations.

These automated answering systems are able to detect which consultations can be handled by virtual assistants and which require a person-to-person interaction. Voice assistants such as Vozy’s Lili, can help streamline these processes by helping healthcare professionals reach the patients whose situation is most critical. 

Provide contactless care

The need for social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic means that a doctor’s visit presents a greater risk than usual. Hospitals become serious points of contagion. Waiting rooms can be overcrowded with people that are at risk of contracting the virus– a scenario that can be minimized through the use of telemedicine. 

Videoconferencing can help patients “see” a doctor while keeping up with self-isolation practices. This application of telemedicine can help slow down the spread of the virus by protecting the patient from getting sick due to exposure, as well as helping doctors reduce their physical contact with patients.

Overcome geographical barriers

Before self-isolation was widespread, telemedicine was a great resource for communities that had less access to healthcare. By traversing geographical and, sometimes, socioeconomic barriers, telemedicine can make care travel to regions that are scarce in resources. By increasing accessibility, improving productivity, and delivering better health outcomes, telemedicine has the potential to reduce the cost of healthcare.

The human touch will always be important in the healthcare industry, and telemedicine does not equate to eliminating in-person visits to the doctor’s office. Like most technological advancements, telemedicine should be used as a tool to help healthcare professionals work in smarter and more efficient ways. 

The pandemic has accelerated what was initially thought to be a more gradual transition into the adoption of telemedicine. However, the benefits of this new model are being validated on a daily basis and will redefine the way in which the healthcare industry uses technology to its advantage in a post-COVID-19 world.

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