The concept of telemedicine is not new. However, despite being around for more than two decades, telemedicine has largely been a service utilized by early adopters or rural locations to improve access to care. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a major increase in utilization of telemedicine services, even by those patients and provider reluctant to try it in the past. In fact, one telemedicine company reported a 3,600% increase in virtual visits since the pandemic started.
Telemedicine comes in two broad categories: asynchronous and synchronous.
Synchronous telemedicine is the most similar to an in-person clinic visit experience, with the patient and provider having a “live” conversation using a videoconferencing platform.
Asynchronous telemedicine involves the patient leaving some form of message that a provider will review at a later time. The provider in turn leaves a similar message for the patient to review at a later time.
Although clinics use text-based asynchronous communications routinely, use of video messaging was rare until the pandemic. During the pandemic, more patients than ever are completing online questionnaires about their symptoms and experiences, while providers are reviewing and diagnosing conditions based off of information provided.
In addition to improving access to care, the process has been found to accelerate the diagnostic process for physicians and prevents the patient and physician from meeting in person, helping to make care accessible to the patient and manage COVID-19 exposure in clinical settings.
The field of telemedicine is still working towards solving remaining concerns that arise with its use. Patients with complex clinical pictures and patients who may need medical attention may referred for in-person healthcare. Thankfully, both synchronous and asynchronous forms of telemedicine have been working to rule out which patients should establish in-person care with a physician during the current pandemic - reducing the numbers of patients in hospitals.