COVID-19: Telehealth is Not Enough in a COVID-19 World

April 8, 2020

The aging and elderly, especially those eligible for Chronic Care Management programs are not just disproportionately susceptible to complications from COVID-19 virus, but their chronic illnesses as well. Telehealth is a helpful tool but inadequate without virtual care.

Orb Health

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect all aspects of life, it is important to look at exactly what it’s disrupting from a normal care perspective. As state wide lock-downs become more prevalent due to the threat of infection from social contact, it is clear that patients are missing their care appointments across a wide spectrum of services.

The aging and elderly, especially those eligible for Chronic Care Management programs are not just disproportionately susceptible to complications from COVID-19 virus, they are also even more at-risk due to the ongoing management of their conditions.

If we check the CDC stat library we see that following:

  • Percent of visits made to primary care physicians: 54.5%
  • Number of visits per 100 persons: 277.9
  • Number of visits: 883.7 million

Source: CDC

During the pandemic, only a portion of those visits are being replaced by telehealth.   Health systems and FQHCs that use telehealth internally to connect to patients 1) have providers that are already overwhelmed by the influx of COVID-19 related patients, 2) they don’t have the time to manage and coordinate the monthly care that is usually needed for the chronically ill, and 3) don’t have the time to spend an average of 40 minutes with these fearful and uncertain patients.

When pure outsourced telehealth providers are brought in, they don’t usually connect to the patients primary care medical record or have a deep collaboration with the PCP.   The result is generic care that doesn’t reach out of the moment to coordinate the wide range of care that is needed including getting prescriptions renewed and filled with remote delivery, getting food pantry deliveries for disadvantaged patients, and much more.  This limits care to a superficial relationship where COVID-19 related information isn’t patient aware or specific.  In the case a patient exacerbates then where should they go?  What’s the protocol so their exposure at high infection risk areas (emergency room, pharmacy, etc.) is limited?

While telehealth is valuable, virtual care is critical as a support system.  The solution provides a way to scale outreach without adding staff, apps, or offices.  It coordinates the broad range of care and spends the time needed to truly help the patients.  It also provides a virtual conduit to bring thousands of work-from-home MDs, physicians, and nurses onto the front lines of the COVID-19 containment battle.

Telehealth is important but virtual care is critical to flattening the infection curve by helping the most at-risk among us remain in their homes, get the care they need, and avoid infection.

Learn more about Orb Health’s telehealth and virtual care approach to COVID-19 containment here.