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How Telemedicine Might Be Enhancing the American Healthcare System

Posts Tagged ‘medicine’

How Telemedicine Might Be Enhancing the American Healthcare System

Posted on: February 24th, 2021 by Encompass Healthcare No Comments

Since the start of technology being so mobile and active in our everyday lives, the American healthcare system has utilized it to enhance the patient experience. Mandy medical offices use tablets instead of clipboards and paper to check patients in, medical records are now kept in online databases instead of paper charts, patients check doctor’s websites for the hours and available services rather than making a phone call or stopping by. The use of technology in medicine started small, yes. But now we’re looking at an almost industry-wide embrace of technology for the safety of patients and staff! And this shift even has its own catchy name, telemedicine!

 

Chances are, you’ve heard the term telemedicine. Especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has become a very common term, describing the use of technology, phone calls, instant messaging, image sharing, or video calls to deliver medical consultation and care. It isn’t a tough concept to understand, but it’s changing the way we handle patient care.

 

Telemedicine is increasing the accessibility of physicians, specialists, and other healthcare professionals. Patients with disabilities, susceptible immune systems, or remote locations probably benefit the most from these technological advances, but in total, it seems to be improving the availability of care for all patients! Patients can now receive test results and imagery quicker than ever. The lab results or scans can be saved and sent via digital file and then interpreted by a medical physician over a phone call to the patient. Patient portals make medical records, bills, and past treatments accessible to patients 24/7.

 

One more recently popular addition to telemedicine is video conferencing between providers and patients. Patients who can’t make it into the office or hospital can video chat with their doctors, allowing them to feel more like they’re speaking face-to-face and allowing for more engagement than a phone call. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this feature has been very helpful for many physicians, healthcare providers, and especially for patients trying to limit exposure and risk. Patients who had tested positive for the virus were often asked to stay home and conduct their follow up appointments through telemedicine if they did not have to be hospitalized. Other patients who might have still been healthy, felt safer staying home than traveling to a doctors office where there might have been an opportunity for infection or exposure. Either way, providers offering telemedicine are helping mitigate risk.

 

Overall, we’ve found telemedicine to have a lot of positive changes, but in case you’re playing devil’s advocate, here’s a pros and cons list.

 

Pros:

  1. Immobile patients, patients with disabilities and those with great distance from healthcare providers can receive care more easily.
  2. Patients can easily contact providers for emergent situations.
  3. Diagnosis and Treatment Plans can be carried out quicker.
  4. Providers can keep their patients and staff members safer by keeping contagious patients at home while they receive care.
  5. Enables patients to have rehabilitation and treatment in their own home.
  6. Patients enjoy their privacy at home and get care at their convenience.

 

Cons:

  1. Smaller facilities and practices may not be able to keep up with technological advances even though they’re providing excellent care for their patients.
  2. Some patients may not feel comfortable using technology or may not have access to the necessary devices.
  3. Providers in some states may have issues billing insurances for telemedicine consults.
  4. Possible care delays, since life-saving care or laboratory tests, cannot be taken digitally.

 

If you or someone you know has participated in telemedicine, either as the patient or the provider, let us know. We’re interested in how things are turning out and how all parties are adjusting to this new phase in healthcare.

 

If you have questions about what services are available at Encompass HealthCare & Wound Medicine, you should contact our front desk or visit our website.

What Will the Opioid Crisis Look Like in Five Years?

Posted on: November 20th, 2019 by Encompass Healthcare No Comments

As an Infectious Disease physician, Dr. Bruce E. Ruben is always learning more about how current issues affect his patients’ healthcare. This article by Jirka Taylor and Peter Reuter originally appeared in the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire last week. Dr. Ruben found this commentary on what the opioid crisis will look like in five years to be a fascinating look at this world-wide problem and thinks his patients should read it too.

Few people had ever heard of fentanyl five years ago. By 2018 this synthetic opioid was implicated in more than 30,000 fatal overdoses in the United States. The next stage of the fast-changing opioid crisis may well depend on how the illegal drug markets morph in the years to come.

In the corners of Europe that have been dealing with fentanyl as long or longer than the United States, each illegal market for opioids took distinct turns. In some, heroin disappeared. In others, opioid nasal sprays arrived. Online sales became the norm. Any of these things could happen here.

What Will the Opioid Crisis Look Like in Five Years?

It’s Estonia where heroin practically disappeared. In the early 2000s, the Taliban’s prohibition on growing poppies in Afghanistan had a ripple effect in Europe constricting the heroin supply. Fentanyl smuggled from or through Russia took its place. Today, tiny Estonia (population about 1.3 million) has the only “mature” fentanyl market in the world.

The replacement of heroin with fentanyl in its drug market was devastating: By 2012, Estonia had one of the highest per capita rates of fatal overdoses in the world. Two other observations, however, offer a bit more reassurance. First, fentanyl does not seem to attract new users: The number of opioid users in Estonia began declining in the 1990s and has continued on that trend. Second, although fentanyl is much cheaper than heroin to produce and ship, drug traffickers do not appear to have lowered street prices, also limiting its spread.

Nearby Latvia underwent a different shift, essentially skipping the fentanyl stage. Stronger variations of the fentanyl molecule, called analogs, started appearing in large quantities around 2014. Until very recently, the most common was carfentanil. One gram of pure carfentanil represents thousands of lethal doses for those without opioid tolerance.

Despite this dangerous potency, Latvian health statistics don’t show a substantial increase in overdose deaths. This suggests that Latvian users and dealers have found comparatively safer ways of consuming synthetic opioids and that overdose death levels don’t inevitably have to skyrocket like they did in Estonia. (Some certainly go unrecorded, but the undercount would have to be enormous for Latvia’s fatal overdose rate to approach Estonia’s.)

Sweden, unlike every other country, developed parallel opioid markets: one for heroin and another for fentanyl analogs. Around 2014, dealers started selling fentanyl analogs online, offering direct-mail delivery. After a period of experimentation, these online dealers settled on an analog nasal spray—a popular alternative for people who preferred not to inject drugs.

Some, though not all, of these facets—the disappearance of heroin, direct online sales, nasal sprays, potent analogs—have begun to pop up in distinct pockets of the United States. None have become widespread in North America yet—but there is no reason why they couldn’t.

Sweden, Latvia and Estonia are, to be sure, much smaller than the United States. But it is useful to think of them as equivalent to a city or small state with a comparatively concentrated supply chain. That also shows us regions just a few hundred miles apart might be affected by fentanyl in completely different ways. The areas of North America that have suffered the most in the opioid crisis—New England, the Midwest, Appalachia, British Columbia—are likely to confront fentanyl in localized ways as well. That will have ramifications for prevention, provision of treatment and other services, and law enforcement efforts.

Despite the variations, there is an overarching commonality to the European cases, too: Once a synthetic opioid like fentanyl becomes dominant, it stays that way. The United States should prepare for fentanyl and other synthetic opioids as a lasting phenomenon, and learning from other countries’ experiences is an important part of that effort.

Jirka Taylor is a policy analyst at the nonpartisan, nonprofit RAND Corporation. Peter Reuter is a professor in the School of Public Policy and Department of Criminology at the University of Maryland. Both are authors of “The Future of Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Opioids.”

 

 

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