Healthcare Technology Featured Article

April 07, 2020

VCU Health Adopts Telehealth to Evaluate COVID-19 Patients

As confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to mount – now up to nearly 1.5 million globally and 400,000 in the United States, millions of businesses have had to adjust and either close – hopefully temporarily – or leverage teleworking technologies.  But, there are still countless essential businesses and employees that are still heading to their workplaces every day.  That includes healthcare workers and first responders, who are constantly at risk as they deal with patients who have or may have contracted the virus.

If there was ever a case tailor-made for telehealth, it’s a pandemic like this.  The same kinds of technologies that are enabling remote communications for millions of businesses can be used to diagnose, consult, and treat patients over distance, reducing the risk of spreading the disease.

That’s what VCU Health physicians in Essex, Westmoreland, and Richmond counties in Virginia are doing to try to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.  Using telehealth technologies, physicians are communicating with first responders to provide initial patient evaluations and determine the best course of action in each case – whether to send them home for self-treatment and quarantine or admit the to a hospital.  The idea is to reduce exposure for medical professionals and other patients, while also reducing the burden on strained healthcare providers.

“As an agency that has been exploring telemedicine for some time, this propels us into a platform that allows for direct physician consult on the scene with existing infrastructure,” said Blake Byrd, assistant chief of Westmoreland EMS.  “By having this capability in the field with our providers, we have the potential to screen patients that meet a pre-determined protocol and potentially keep our limited resources available for additional volume that may result from COVID-19. This capability is crucial for our system from both a management and pre-hospital care perspective.”

It’s the first time telehealth is being used in Virginia to treat COVID-19 patients – but, frankly, it’s something every state and municipality should have implemented long ago. 

Still, better late than never, and the program can help ensure that more critical patients have access to the care they need, while still giving patients with more minor symptoms and those deemed likely to recover on their own the instruction they need.  Through the telehealth platform Pulsara, first responders are able to connect with VCU health staff to conduct video conversations between EMS personnel, VCU physicians, and patients.

In fact, by leveraging telehealth solutions, VCU Health can receive assistance for initial consultations from doctors wherever they are – including home – to reduce the demand on hospital staff even more.

Harinder Dhindsa, M.D., associate professor and interim chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine in the VCU School of Medicine, and medical director of VCU Critical Care Transport, says the program will help emergency departments better handle patient volumes, maximize EMS resources and protective equipment, and enable faster response times.  Dhindsa also says there’s potential for expanding the program to additional counties, as well as to handle other patient conditions.

Edited by Erik Linask
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