Virtual care in the age of COVID-19 and beyond

Virtual care in the age of COVID-19 and beyond
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Two, newly published articles have provided insights into the use of virtual care during COVID-19 and how the lessons and transformations can benefit healthcare beyond the crisis.

The articles, published in Lancet Digital Health, take an in depth look at the use of both telehealth and virtual care through the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting not only the value of technology for preventing contagious disease but also in providing access to care for patients.

In a Nature Partner Journal’s Digital Medicine perspective, Lee Schwamm, Director of the Center for Telehealth at Massachusetts General Hospital and Vice President of Virtual Care at Partners Healthcare, and his colleagues stress that virtual care, by collapsing the barriers of time and distance, is ideal for providing low-cost, patient-centred care that is more convenient and with greater productivity than traditional methods, especially during a pandemic.

Dr Schwamm noted how the technology utilised during the COVID-19 crisis can help outdated methods of healthcare delivery and reveal new ways to improve the health of patients.

Guidance to other healthcare systems

The authors have provided guidance to other healthcare systems in regard to implementing telehealth and other virtual care tools that can help address challenges both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Two pivotal innovations highlighted in the report are virtual rounds and a virtual intercom communication system.

Currently, traditional medical rounds involve a number of healthcare workers huddled around a computer to discuss, for example, treatment options. The new, virtual rounds are a means of implementing ‘medical distancing’ whereby healthcare workers discuss remotely from other areas of the hospital through digital technology.

The virtual intercom communication system allows clinicians to monitor and communicate with patients over video screens from anywhere in the hospital. This allows patients to see a human face when other personal contact is prohibited, and healthcare workers are covered up by PPE.

Dr Schwamm said: “It will be important for health systems to reap the benefits of this digital innovation to redesign inpatient and ambulatory care delivery now and in the near future, as we transition from clinical surge to a recovery phase.

“These approaches have allowed us to deliver exceptional care during a time of mass contagion, 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.”

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