The COVID-19 pandemic introduced a new viral enemy worldwide, while having an enormous impact on morbidity and mortality in nursing homes, both in residents and staff. The contagious nature of the virus demanded a new approach to healthcare to minimize the spread between individuals. One way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 among and between patients and providers other than social distancing, vaccines, and personal protective equipment involved turning to telehealth and telemedicine for providing health services.1 Indeed, a recent National Center for Health Statistics’ Report on, “Telemedicine Use Among Adults: United States, 2021,” states, “37% of adults used telemedicine in the last 12 months.”2
What is telehealth? The Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines telehealth as the use of digital and communications technologies to support remote “clinical healthcare, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”3 Although often used interchangeably, telehealth refers broadly to the use of “digital healthcare activities and services” by healthcare providers while telemedicine more specifically denotes only the remote “practice of medicine.”4 Telemedicine mostly takes place online using internet-connected digital devices like a computer, tablet, or smartphone. See Table 1 for commonly noted pros and cons of electronic healthcare.
Table 1. Some Telemedicine Pros and Cons.5-8
|Telemedicine Pros||Telemedicine Cons|
With this increased implementation of telemedicine services in the healthcare realm, telemedicine is drawing the attention of researchers. For further suggested reading, see the following publication: Telemedicine and Telehealth in Nursing Homes: An Integrative Review.
During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the federal government issued the Public Health Emergency (PHE) policy that made it easier for providers to use telemedicine. However, since the COVID-19 disease is now no longer considered pandemic status, the federal PHE regulations and guidance are under review. The Department of Health and Human Services met in late 2022 to discuss and has provided an extension into early 2023. Updates can be found at the HHS.gov website.
Revising the protocols suggests electronic medical visits will have a niche in healthcare. For long-term care residents, some face-to-face visits are still required; however, telemedicine clearly provides healthcare access in a safe, efficient manner that minimizes exposure to contagious diseases, when applicable. Hopefully, regulators will allow this important healthcare trend to remain an option.