While telehealth has become a subject with increasing interest and relevance in the last few years, particularly given the rapid development of secure and cost-effective teleconferencing technology, the recent coronavirus crisis has made it necessary to accelerate the adoption of HIPAA-approved telehealth services for many clinics and private practices.
In order to continue to serve their patients, healthcare providers have had to speed up their competences in order to enable virtual visits and consults, and those who have been offering limited telehealth services have had to expand on those services in order to better help manage their patients.
While the research on how this shift has affected patient outcomes is still being worked on, we do know that the current COVID-19 crisis has and continues to negatively impact patients with other healthcare issues, particularly as specialists and resources throughout the world are being pooled into addressing the immediate crisis at hand.
Nevertheless, many specialists are continuing to see and care for their patients remotely, particularly those with chronic health issues that require frequent care. However, how effective is telehealth for managing such chronic conditions, including different forms of chronic pain?
The Importance of Online Pain Management Care
Given current circumstances, it’s clear that many chronic pain patients have limited options when it comes to treatment. Many forms of chronic pain require treatment that can compromise or affect a person’s immune response, thereby increasing the risk for complications from COVID-19. Some forms of chronic pain co-occur with conditions that have been proven to worsen outcomes with COVID, from heart and lung disease to diabetes.
Depending on a patient’s specific circumstances, it’s often best to minimize physical contact with others, including one’s own physician, especially in regions with rising infection rates. However, quitting treatment is equally unwise. Most forms of chronic pain treatment cannot simply be stopped and require very careful weaning to be safely interrupted.
It would also be dangerous to stop treatment in cases where it’s critical to regularly apply certain treatments or refill prescriptions to help keep pain at a manageable level. As such, telehealth, e-Prescriptions, and virtual visits may be the only available recourse to many patients for the foreseeable future.
How Effective Is Telehealth for Pain Management Patients?
Thankfully, existing evidence indicates that online pain management can be either just as effective as face-to-face patient care, or elicit even better outcomes if used in combination with face-to-face patient care. The obvious challenges here are cost and opportunity, given that healthcare providers need to install, market, manage and provide an effective telehealth service, while also primarily being at the mercy of the patient’s internet connection and own experience with virtual communication.
It may be challenging to treat a patient’s pain remotely when they cannot accept video calls and can only be treated via telephone or VOIP. There is no dearth of treatment options for healthcare providers primarily working with patients through telemedicine. Physical therapy sessions, telepsychiatry, post-treatment or post-surgery follow-up, consultation with multiple doctors and medication prescription are all viable and important telecare services during this time.
It’s also important not to underestimate the value of telecare for patients outside of the context of a pandemic crisis. Via online pain management care, patients with pain symptoms rendering them bedridden can continue to receive direct consultation from their physician, and research shows a 25 percent reduction in bed days of care and 19 percent reduction in hospital admissions among patients with significant disability receiving telehealth services.
On the matters of privacy and security, it’s also important to note that telecommunications tools have come a long way. The ability to talk and interact face-to-face virtually has much improved since the early days of the smartphone, and there are several vendors specializing in encrypted HIPAA-approved telehealth communications technologies to ensure patient safety and privacy.
How Telehealth Can Improve Remote Care and Treatment Adherence
Aside from providing invaluable access to patients virtually during this difficult time, the jump towards expanding telehealth services throughout the United States will continue to have an important impact on healthcare moving forward, particularly in the fields of remote care and treatment adherence.
Better, more cost-effective telehealth services, more experienced staff, and expanded high-speed internet in rural areas will help push telehealth forward as one of the most important aspects of near-future healthcare, particularly in the face of rising healthcare costs and concerns regarding urban mobility, and the associated risk of infectious disease.
This will help facilitate expedient:
- Physical therapy and psychiatric care services.
- Nurse-assisted visits with remote consultation through satellite clinics.
- Smartphone-based virtual home visits.
- And much more.
A physician’s remote diagnostic tools may still be limited for now, but telehealth is already playing a vital role in making it easier than ever for both healthcare providers and patients to stick to strict and more frequent follow up visits, and ensure that a patient hasn’t forgotten or deviated from their treatment program.
By making it easier than ever for patients and doctors to interact virtually, treatment adherence can be improved – which will have a massive impact on outcomes, especially given the widespread danger posed by a lack of treatment adherence in online pain management.
The Role of Online Pain Management Services After COVID-19
COVID-19’s role in the faster adoption of telehealth cannot be understated – and neither can the impact of rapidly shifting towards telehealth at a time when hospitals are pooling resources into desperately combatting the pandemic. But we should not expect things to ever return to “normal” after a vaccine has been developed and distributed.
When it comes to online pain management care, the writing has been on the wall for a while – immobilized populations, rural populations, and otherwise marginalized groups have been hit hardest by the pandemic, and were already struggling under the limitations of our pre-pandemic healthcare system.
Expanding and improving telecommunications infrastructure as well as telehealth services can greatly help provide care to the people who need it the most, and make a massive impact long after we’ve overcome this crisis – as well as help us better prepare for any future public health challenges.
While doctors cannot perform surgeries or minimally invasive interventions virtually, they can prescribe medication, perform virtual home visits, facilitate physical and psychiatric therapy, and help schedule personalized follow-up appointments to ensure that a patient’s pain is kept in check.