Telemedicine is not a novel concept. Long before the invention of the Internet, patients were calling their doctors to ask about certain symptoms when it simply wasn’t possible to get to the doctor’s office. It didn’t make up for a thorough assessment or treatment, but it did act as a quick stand-in for a real in-office interaction.
Telehealth technology has come so far since then, with far better connectivity, the widespread use of pocket-sized high definition cameras, better sound quality, and the ability to communicate across any distance imaginable. Such technological improvements are more important today than they ever were, especially in the face of a global pandemic.
Not only has COVID-19 placed significant strain on our healthcare system, but it has also made it dangerous for individuals with preexisting conditions and weakened immune systems to take a step outside, let alone set an appointment with a doctor. This is particularly troublesome for patients with chronic conditions, as they are affected the most by a change in healthcare.
A virtual visit to the pain doctor’s office might not fully replace a face-to-face interaction with a specialist. However, there are many new tools in a healthcare provider’s arsenal these days to help chronic pain management patients seek treatment and consistent, high-quality care.
Telemedicine Options Are Greater Than Ever
There’s much more to telemedicine these days than the phone call to the doctor’s office. The Internet provides a platform for virtual infrastructure, helping to facilitate the diagnosis, treatment and management of chronic pain for years to come. Some of the ways in which telemedicine can currently be leveraged to help chronic pain patients include (but is not limited to):
Real-Time, Face-to-Face Consultations and Online Pain Doctors
VOIP software, from FaceTime to Skype to Zoom, allows for instant video conferencing and messaging between individuals and large groups alike, at high video and audio quality, provided the patient and healthcare provider are both in a place with quality Internet access. There are also programs that specialize in secure, encrypted messaging and video communications.
Thus, patients don’t have to worry about having someone else listen in or record their conversation with their doctor. Medical professionals utilize video conferencing tools that are HIPAA-compliant and have a proven track record for privacy protection. Encrypted one-on-one platforms like Signal or medicine-specific communications platforms like Medici spring to mind.
Virtual Visits and Patient Management
Via online portals, instant messaging, and other forms of virtual text-based communication and cloud-based computing, doctors can easily organize their virtual appointments and help their patients set a specific time for their video check-up, while properly accommodating their other patients.
Electronic Health Records (EHRs)
Electronic health records are a virtual version of a patient’s medical history, meant to provide a broader view of a patient’s overall history and well-being. EHRs are a more comprehensive, multi-provider overview of a patient, while EMRs (electronic medical records) are essentially a digital version of a patient’s paper chart.
Because the sensitive nature of EHRs, they are only available to medical professionals, strictly for the purpose of reducing medical errors by providing an accurate recorded medical history without delay. This means errors caused my misremembering certain details about one’s health or missing records from other doctors can be avoided.
Biometric Monitoring and “Wearables”
The factors that affect chronic pain are biopsychosocial, meaning that a patient’s pain can be affected by physical causes, psychological issues, as well as social context (i.e. social status and culture). Sometimes, sudden physical changes can be relevant in the context of a patient’s chronic pain, suggesting a development that requires urgent care or a doctor’s immediate attention.
Biometric wearables give medical professionals yet another avenue through which to help monitor a patient’s health and ensure that any sudden or critical development will be responded to urgently. Wearables also help remind patients about treatment adherence and help them keep track of their vitals throughout any physical activity, which can be quite helpful among the elderly.
Electronic Prescribing (eRx) and Pain Medication Delivery
Given the circumstances we find ourselves in with the spread COVID-19, minimizing personal contact is often preferable, especially for patients who require medication to keep their chronic pain at bay. Conditions that correlate to chronic pain often leave the body in a weakened state, especially affecting the immune system as the body fights a state of chronic inflammation.
ePrescription and medication delivery services are particularly important, then, allowing doctors to prescribe new medication and order refills for their patients, while letting them pick their medication up at the curb outside a designated delivery spot, or via door-to-door delivery.
Telemedicine Follow-Up Appointments and Patient Portals
Doctors and specialists can utilize cloud-based technology to manage patient data, schedule appointments and follow-up conversations, and more safely and securely. Patient portals allow pain doctors to give patients access to a secure website where they can:
- Sign up for their own appointments.
- View available slots in their doctor’s schedule.
- Report specific symptoms or problems virtually.
- And more.
Patient portals also allow patients to communicate with doctors and view results, their recent medical history, request a prescription refill, make online payments, or view additional educational information about their condition.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, current and emerging technologies are making it easier than ever to help patients manage symptoms of chronic pain remotely, via video conferencing, online appointment booking, patient portals, smart wearables and beyond.
Healthcare providers can even leverage condition-specific mobile applications to help provide non-pharmacological therapy via CBT- and DBT-based apps, guided imagery, and remote hypnotherapy. As this crisis unfolds, more pain management specialists turn to telemedicine solutions in an effort to help patients continue to seek ongoing care.
While telemedicine is not advanced enough to provide an effective alternative for emergency care, or any number of in-person interventions, it can help patients who simply require regular check-ups and help refilling and ordering prescription medication for their condition. Be sure to inquire about the telehealth-based pain management services and options provided by your physician.