Telemedicine IT and Disaster Response

By Luke Smith, Writer and Researcher
Twitter: @lukesmithwrites

The novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV2, created a public health disaster that required an innovative and accessible response. By nature of a pandemic, the effects of the virus have been widespread. Medical professionals are strained in accommodating the crushing demand.

To better answer public health needs while maintaining the safety of medical personnel, telemedicine became a popular and necessary feature of care treatment. Through telemedicine, physicians have been able to treat, observe, and even diagnose patients from across huge distances.

This recent example has shown us the power and importance of telemedicine in disaster response. Here’s what you should know about this game-changing connection.

The Role of Telemedicine IT in Disaster Response
As disasters and warfare make regions of the globe virtually inaccessible, the role of a healthcare physician often takes on a more distant aspect. Telemedicine makes receiving care possible for all kinds of disenfranchised individuals and communities. From rural America to war-torn Syria, telemedicine can be an accessible and helpful tool.

For example, when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017, healthcare needs were too great for first response teams. With the help of satellite connectivity, however, telemedicine became a vital component of collecting data, diagnosing patients, and formulating treatment plans for hurricane-isolated communities. This took some of the burden off the care professionals on the island.

Telemedicine systems are helping people all over the world access the care they need more quickly. Even if this mainly occurs through importing symptom data and ordering a treatment plan, it can mean the start of care that changes the outcome of a person’s life.

It has been proved time and time again that early detection of an oncoming disaster, be it wildfire or cancer, can help prevent fatal consequences. Telemedicine and innovations in telemedicine IT are allowing for necessary care more quickly and effectively. In turn, lives can be saved.

How Telemedicine Keeps Patients and Doctors Safe
The coronavirus placed the world’s nurses and doctors on the front lines of a public health crisis. These skilled professionals selflessly and tirelessly provide the care and treatments needed by the public while the pandemic rages, but they do so at great risk to themselves. Care professionals face higher exposure rates and associated health concerns. Telemedicine, however, can offer a reprieve for these highly essential workers.

While of course we will never erase the need for real human contact in most healthcare treatments, telemedicine assists care professionals by eliminating geographical and safety barriers. Vulnerable care providers could still treat patients through virtual platforms, meaning they maintained work while providing an invaluable service during the crisis. In combating ebola, we have even seen telemedicine solutions mean the difference between life and death for care providers in instances where personal protective equipment (PPE) could not be trusted to keep care personnel safe.

Perhaps in no area of healthcare was telemedicine more essential than in treating mental illness throughout the pandemic. The coronavirus had a devastating effect not only on physical and economic health but on mental health, as well. Rates of depression and anxiety went up by double-digit percentages.

Fortunately, however, many patients otherwise discouraged or barred from accessing care because of the health risks associated with the pandemic were able to contact a mental health professional through telemedicine. The use of telemedicine jumped from 11% of patients to 46% in just a single year. This indicates that millions of people across the world were able to tap into telemedicine technology to maintain their own functionality and contentment.

Telemedicine has even extended into vision care. In a world in which many workers spend most of their days staring at a computer screen, maintaining access to this care even during times of disaster can mean a patient gets to keep their job and source of income.

A Future of Accessible Care
Disaster response is never an easy task. Care providers must sort out the chaos with limited resources to provide helpful treatment. Telemedicine, however, can bridge the gaps in disaster care while increasing the collection of informative data and moving treatment plans along more quickly.

By adopting telemedicine on a global scale, we can better meet human needs during a disaster and model effective care solutions for all the times in between.