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Bright Futures

Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

August 18, 2020, Franklin, Wayne J., MD ,
The Future is Now at Phoenix Children’s

The COVID-19 pandemic has created extraordinary challenges worldwide. In healthcare, patients, families and providers are adjusting to new ways of practicing medicine. We are still learning about the symptoms and effects of COVID-19. The virus has severely impacted nearly every aspect of daily life, from the education of our children, to healthcare to the economy.

However, the pandemic has also forced doctors accelerate their telemedicine capabilities. Clinicians everywhere have been compelled to rethink the way that they deliver care, since both patients and their providers are at risk of contracting the virus due to the high prevalence in the United States. 

Fortunately, Phoenix Children's Hospital adapted quickly to the pandemic. In fact, we went went from essentially no telemedicine visits to over 6,000 telemedicine visits in one week. Our information technology staff made national news for the rapid implementation of this essential new component of healthcare delivery. By using telemedicine, also known as e-medicine or telehealth, providers are able to connect with patients while maintaining social distancing, which is important to combat this novel coronavirus.

Impressively, using this telemedicine technology, clinicians can also connect to patients who are in remote or rural areas, while the patient can remain in the comfort and safety of their own home. What was once thought to be science fiction is now reality.  Doctors and patients can now connect virtually on their phones or laptops just as easily as making a phone call or sending a text message.

Telemedicine has, however, presented some real challenges. It requires patients to have broadband Internet access, which nearly 35 million Americans lack.

There are additional barriers to telehealth, as a result of service restrictions on mental health visits: The Center for Medicare Medicaid Services do not cover therapy services via phone. Furthermore, each state has its own regulations, which often limits the care clinicians provide across state lines. Lastly, different insurers have different policies in each state, so one type of visit may be allowed in one state but not another.

Nonetheless, many clinicians think telemedicine and remote healthcare will be here to stay. This technology that was once slowed down by institutional obstacles and the need for digital infrastructure has been catapulted to the forefront of modern healthcare. In fact, many patients prefer telemedicine for convenience and safety, and this is not likely to change after the pandemic.

This new frontier of medicine will continue to evolve. We already use an array of remote monitoring and wearable tech that includes HIPAA-compliant cameras, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, weight and glucose levels, to name a few. In addition, we are working towards more remote physical exam tools such as a virtual stethoscope and virtual otoscope. 

Remote healthcare will never fully replace in-person care, but it will continue to be an important asset to both providers and patients. We plan to continue to embrace this technology and harness it to provide the highest and safest quality of care. At Phoenix Children’s Hospital, the future of medicine is happening now.

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