RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - President Trump signed a $8.3 billion coronavirus response bill last week, with a major element involving the expansion of telehealth. The measure allows Medicare to cover many more older patients who engage in virtual visits with doctors, from their home.
The move comes at a time when telemedicine could be more urgent than ever before.
Telehealth has quickly become a major factor in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients can get daily monitoring and check-ups, including a reading of their vital signs, in their own homes. They can converse with medical professionals via video chat or even a simple phone conversation.
Telemedicine allows some of the most vulnerable population, the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions, to avoid in-person contact, putting themselves or even others at risk, as COVID-19 continues to spread across the world. Telehealth also frees up hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices for patients who don’t have access to virtual methods of receiving care.
Jacqueline Dolce, 83, lives in Wyoming, but has daily video visits with Michele Ward, a registered nurse with Chesterfield-based Remote Health Solutions. Dolce uses an at-home kit of small, familiar medical devices that take temperature, pulse, and blood pressure. The kid also includes a mini tablet, to help record and transmit information.
Ward is able to remotely read Dolce’s vitals from her office, across the country. The pair then video chats about Dolce’s daily status, and the best plan of action, if any. Nurses can diagnose and even prescribe medicine remotely.
“Was it a dry cough?” asked Ward, during a daily video chat with Dolce.
“Just a runny nose,” replied Dolce. “I think I have a slight cold, is all.”
Remote Health Solutions founder Adam Hardage created the company three years ago after a jolting experience while serving in Afghanistan. Hardage said he had unexpectedly nearly become blind.
"I woke up one day and I couldn't see," said Hardage.
Military medics initially thought he had a brain tumor. Hardage was immediately flown back to the states where he was then seen by a neurologist.
That neurologist had a much different diagnosis.
“He took one look at me and said, ‘You don’t have brain tumor. You have MS,’” said Hardage. “Had we had this (telehealth) technology, (the neurosurgeon) could have diagnosed that remotely in Afghanistan, and I could have avoided that misdiagnoses.”
Now, Hargrove is at the forefront of telemedicine.
“Everything we do is the virtual exam room,” he said, showing the eVER kit, or electronic virtual exam room. “Everything is very touch screen simple, lots of pictures. Very few words.”
Hargrove said he’s met with White House officials battling the coronavirus pandemic every week for the last month. He said RHS is working to stockpile potentially thousands of these kits.
“As the nation’s hospital systems become overburdened, the world is going to look more and more frequently towards telehealth,” said Hargrove. “Telehealth and telemedicine are frankly going to be the thing that saves American hospital systems from overburdening and collapse.”
Medical practitioners can also set up eVER kits to help screen patients outside a hospital, at remote testing locations. They can also monitor COVID-19 patients who already have the virus, and are quarantined at home.
The bill signed by President Trump also applies to a simpler forms of telehealth, where patients can even speak with doctors through apps like Skype, or even just speaking over the phone.
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