(CNN)President Donald Trump offered Americans a fresh weapon to fight the novel coronavirus in his Rose Garden emergency declaration on Friday: Telehealth.
In his remarks, Trump said his administration will waive certain federal rules to make it easier for more doctors to provide care remotely using video chats and other services.
“I tell you, what they’ve done with telehealth is incredible,” he said, describing the technology as “a fairly new and incredible thing that’s happened in the not-so-distant past.”
The move is aimed at increasing the number of doctors who can participate in telehealth programs by making it easier for them to practice in states other than where they are licensed.
However, in order to take effect, governors must first use their emergency powers to allow those doctors permission to practice in their states, said Krista Drobac, executive director of the Alliance for Connected Care, a telehealth industry group.
US hospitals and doctors’ practices are bracing for a flood of coronavirus patients. For some, the arrival of the virus in the United States has touched off a scramble to adopt virtual medical services.
Health care workers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have lashed iPads to IV poles to create makeshift video portals through which they can communicate with patients in isolation rooms, said Lee Schwamm, vice president for virtual care at Mass General’s parent, Partners HealthCare.
George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC, aims to roll out its telemedicine services in response to the coronavirus as soon as next week, according to Neal Sikka, the university medical school’s associate professor of emergency medicine. The hospital plans to use its virtual option to provide doctor guidance on coronavirus symptoms and questions and to help determine whether a patient needs to visit a clinic or emergency room for testing.
It is also looking to serve more of its regular daily patients through telehealth to let them remain protected at home. Plus, it would allow health care workers who have to stay home but aren’t very sick to continue providing care, albeit remotely.
Both institutions have dramatically accelerated their plans to deploy virtual medical services, compressing programs that were intended to take years into just a few weeks.
“Right now, I am heads-down, struggling to get 10,000 providers launched” on telehealth services, said Schwamm, referring to physicians, nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants in his network. Within the next month or two, Schwamm hopes that figure will be closer to 50,000 and will include social workers, radiology technicians, respiratory therapists and other specialists.
Telehealth going mainstream
Telehealth is having its moment in the sun. After many years of false starts and slow adoption rates, the technology—which enables patients to interact virtually with healthcare providers via video and teleconferencing platforms—is seeing booming volumes. During the last two weeks of March, one of the country’s leading telehealth providers reported an 80% increase in overall case volume as patients with non-urgent medical issues sought alternatives to hospitals, urgent care centers, and doctors’ offices.
Tracking Telehealth Encounters
To answer any of these questions, providers, health plans, public health officials, and life sciences professionals are going to need to be able to track telehealth interactions in ways that were never before possible.
To put this in perspective, consider the state of telehealth utilization rates in the pre-COVID-19 environment. According to a 2019 study, just 10% of the U.S. population had ever used a telehealth service. Reasons for the low adoption rate include a general lack of awareness and widespread confusion about whether or not it is covered by insurance.
With such low adoption rates, telehealth implementation stalled. Providers never prioritized consistent coding of telehealth encounters, or streamlined integration of telehealth engagement into electronic health records (EHR), meaning that many of the telehealth encounters that were happening prior to COVID-19 were happening in a vacuum.
Real-Time Analytics Bring Telehealth Engagement Into Focus
Thankfully, recent advances in real-world patient data analytics have made it possible to rapidly identify and “tag” telehealth encounters without relying on traditional insurance claims databases to catch up with the new reality.
In fact, by applying this tagging functionality to our healthcare mapping technology, which tracks the complete healthcare experience of more than 320 million individuals nationwide, we’ve found that the number of healthcare providers now offering telehealth services to their patients is 5.7 times higher today than it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In New York, where COVID-19 hit hardest, the number of doctors now offering telehealth is nearly 9.7 times higher than it was pre-pandemic.
The Big Cloud Data Boom Gets Even Bigger, Thanks to COVID-19
Public clouds were gaining momentum before COVID-19. Now, nearly eight weeks into the pandemic and associated shutdown of work and play, clouds are gaining even more ground as companies scramble to virtualize as much of their operations as possible, including data storage and analytics workloads.
For a glimpse of how the public cloud platforms have been impacted by the spread of coronavirus, let’s take a look at recent financial results from the Big 3. Many states implemented COVID-19 lockdowns in the third week of March, before the close of the quarters.
“If you step back and ask yourself, say, two years from now, is there going be more being done in the public cloud or hybrid cloud or less? The answer is more,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during a conference call last week.
The Big 3 cloud providers already had considerable momentum going into the lockdown, and that momentum has increased substantially since, according to industry experts.
Restrictions are still in place
In recent weeks, many countries around the world, including the United States, have imposed travel restrictions to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Airport closures, the suspension of all incoming and outgoing flights, and nationwide lockdowns are just some of the measures countries are adopting in an effort to help contain the pandemic.
On March 19, the State Department issued a Level 4 “do not travel” advisory, recommending that United States citizens avoid any global travel. This is the highest travel advisory the federal agency can issue. During the same week, the European Union instituted a 30-day ban on nonessential travel to at least 26 European countries from the rest of the world.
At least 93 percent of the global population now lives in countries with coronavirus-related travel restrictions, with approximately 3 billion people residing in countries enforcing complete border closures to foreigners, according to recent analysis by the Pew Research Center. This list of countries and territories that have restricted travel, pulled from official government reports and the State Department, will be updated as new measures are announced.
If the territory you are seeking information about is not listed, check this list from the State Department with updates about restrictions that have been put in place.