Since the onset of COVID-19 at the beginning of this year, with an extraordinarily tragic loss of over 100,000 lives, we are seeing new trends in healthcare delivery rapidly emerging. The most talked about change has been the increased development of telehealth as a method of communication between healthcare provider and patient. From medical journals to newspaper articles, we are seeing a growing discussion of the limitless possibilities for using telecommunications as the primary access point to healthcare services.
Having personally experienced two telehealth visits during this phase of our stay-at-home order, I approached these two contacts, one with my cardiologist and one with my dermatologist, from both a medical and a business perspective. While both physicians are extraordinary in their professional skill sets and naturally personable, I found each of these encounters wanting. I thought about what was missing from these experiences that a face-to-face would have provided?
My cardiologist is a chief of service at a hospital that has its telehealth technology tied in with the operating system that runs the hospital. I’m sure that fundamentally this system is outstanding since they paid hundreds of millions of dollars for it. However, because it’s a closed system, video portion of the telehealth system does not work very well; so much so that our visit ended up being a telephone conference.
The visit with my dermatologist was a secondary follow-up to determine if a another dermatology procedure was necessary. His ultimate decision resulted from my description of the status of my recovery from the first procedure. Once again, telehealth precluded a realistically critical analysis. It did, however, allow the doctor to make an affirmative decision to go forward with the second procedure. These two experiences point out the limits of telemedicine.
As we continue to accelerate the process of impersonal healthcare delivery, the need for coordination of care becomes more evident. As a frame of reference, one might ask the question, “Why does a symphony orchestra require a conductor?” Each of the musicians is a skilled professional, highly proficient in their instrument; yet, without a conductor, the music would lack clear coordination and become discordant. The parallel to healthcare delivery is identical. Each physician, whether a primary care doctor or a specialist, is highly skilled in their area of medicine. However, without harmonizing the services to achieve the best possible outcome, the cost of delivery accelerates and the quality of care diminishes.
As telehealth increases, it diminishes the provider’s ability to read body language and stress, and the guarantee of confidentiality in the conversation is less sure. These are essential components of diagnosis and treatment. It further increases the need for care coordination to ensure the best possible results from the telehealth care encounters. Records coordination, follow-up with the PCP or other specialists, and ensuring that the patient does not get lost in the care continuum have become essential. At Curus, the reassuring voice that fully understands your health condition and has access to your medical records from all of the providers of care can provide security and peace of mind in an increasingly impersonal healthcare delivery system.