News Feature | November 8, 2016

Virtual Care Helps Ease Bottlenecks And Spread Of Disease During Flu Season

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

Flu Shot

Telemedicine is not just for diagnosis and chronic care, but also population health management.

As healthcare costs spike and greater emphasis is placed on reducing costs, improving outcomes, and creating greater efficiency, telemedicine is stepping into the spotlight as a way to diagnose simple conditions, track and provide chronic care, provide behavioral and mental health treatment, and even help with population health management.

In fact, as Health IT Outcomes pointed out last year, telemedicine’s most promising aspect is the impact it can have on population health and patient care. Ken Congdon explained, “Collectively, these technologies can provide an on-demand, real-time connection between patient and provider. Physicians can easily keep daily tabs on patients with chronic conditions and proactively intervene if warning signs present. This level of insight can be a powerful weapon in keeping patients well and reducing ER visits and hospital admissions. For patients, telemedicine technologies can make interacting with physicians considerably more convenient. It can reduce the number of office visits and travel a patient must endure, because more care can be delivered from the comfort of their own home. As I see it, telemedicine, more than any other technology initiative, has the power to change the patient/provider paradigm.”

But telemedicine also has the power to help contain epidemics by diagnosing and treating flu and other contagious diseases via virtual visits, therefore reducing the contact infected individuals have with others.

“One of the best ways to be a good healthcare citizen and avoid spreading germs to others in overcrowded waiting rooms at clinics, urgent care centers, and emergency rooms is to take advantage of online virtual visits,” said Kevin Smith, DNP, FNP, FAANP, Chief Clinical Officer at Zipnosis, a virtual care company.

Evidence-based clinical research supports this strategy. For example, a widely cited study published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology found strong evidence that well-child visits subsequently resulted in a 3.17 percent increase in influenza-like illnesses among children and their family members within two weeks of the visit. This germ swap results in more than 766,000 additional office visits for flu-like symptoms each year and nearly $492 million in annual costs.

Now imagine if you could reduce that exposure with the use of virtual healthcare. “When you’re suffering from cold or flu symptoms, virtual healthcare delivered by providers from your community’s own health system allows you to receive the same accurate diagnosis and high-quality care you would in person, but more cost effectively and in the comfort of your own home,” Smith explained. “In addition, if you’re contagious, you’re doing your part: You won’t spread your germs to the high school player who’s at the urgent care center getting treated for a sprained ankle or to the parent at your family practice clinic whose child has a preventive care appointment.”

And telemedicine has also proven to be beneficial in protecting healthcare workers against the spread of deadly infectious diseases like Ebola. Adopting virtual diagnosis and treatment protocols can help safeguard healthcare professionals against exposure to the disease, while also helping to prevent further outbreaks.

“When health systems and good healthcare citizens team up to use virtual healthcare to prevent the spread of germs during cold and flu season, it can make a truly positive difference for their communities,” Smith said.