The explosion of telehealth caused by COVID-19, particularly in less-served rural areas, has been aided by a number of new technologies.
A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that telehealth appointments were 50 percent higher in the first three months of 2020, over the year before, and then spiked after even more after that.
In a meeting with representatives from CNHI’s Pennsylvania newsrooms earlier this year, David Lopatofsky, chief medical director of UPMC Susquehanna of UPMC Susquehanna said system-wide, UPMC was doing about 250 telemedicine appointments a day pre-pandemic. That number exploded to 10,000 a day last April and shows no signs of slowing down.
Starting in early 2020, UPMC’s cardiology department started focusing on a bring your own device program, said cardiologist Dr. Eric Dueweke. Previously, UPMC, which covers areas of Pennsylvania and Maryland, had a heart failure monitoring kit, which included a Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure cuff and scale, paired with a tablet, he said. The kit would be used to monitor patients’ weight, blood pressure and overall sense of well-being, Dueweke said.
“This would all be fed into a group of nurses that monitored this information, and could make adjustments based on patients feeling more short of breath, or having weight gain or carrying too much fluid,” Dueweke said.
Nurses spent a lot of time conducting technical support on the kits, he said. The new system, using patients’ smartphones, is simpler.
“It’s overall been pretty well received,” Dueweke said. “Overall, we’ve found that we can reach most of the people we could previously reach, and it also decreased a lot of the cost and complexity of the service,” he added later.
Smartphones are better than they have ever been, and patients have wearable devices that monitor heart rates and other data, Dueweke said. “In order to meet this force in the market, we have used the patients’ own devices, increasingly,” he said.
Currently, patients can forward data from their smart devices to the doctor via MyUPMC, the hospital system’s messaging system, he said. In the future, Dueweke said he could see more and more consumers using wearable smart devices, instead of some medical devices.
“Patients want to use the technology, they want to be able to reach out in a convenient way, and our physicians are prepared to do that,” Dueweke said. “We welcome it, and I think it’s an exciting time to be in health care.”
UPMC also conducts hospital to hospital and hospital to clinic telehealth visits, allowing patients to see specialists based in larger hospitals from their own area.
“It goes beyond just a video conference,” Dueweke said. “We have electronic stethoscopes and very high-resolution electronic cameras, that we can use to see the patient, listen to their heartbeat, even 60, 70, even 100 miles away.”
Eric Scicchitano of The (Sunbury) Daily Item contributed to this story