Healthcare is evolving in a lot of ways, and in some cases fairly rapidly. Within this evolution, a lot of the changes we’re seeing have to do with making patient care somewhat more flexible, and enabling professionals to help their patients outside of traditional settings. And to be clear, this is a positive change that was in effect in numerous ways before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perhaps the main example of this change coming into effect is the rise of telehealth. Simply put, better technology is enabling patients to monitor their own conditions in some cases, and report to their physicians remotely. Per a previous assessment of telehealth and healthcare delivery here, respondents to a 2019 survey indicated that remote care brought about by this sort of technology was “as good or better” than an in-person visit. And on the physicians’ side, the same practices enable more schedule flexibility and an ability to serve more patients.
Another change we’re seeing has to do with the evolution of nursing, and the flexibility the profession is beginning to adopt. A much-discussed impending nurse shortage actually seems to be leading to something of a surge in nursing education, not just for traditional undergraduates but in online university programs as well. Within this change though, it’s notable that some of the best nursing careers students are pursuing revolve around remote care. That is to say, in the effort to address the nursing shortage, the profession itself is evolving to focus more on jobs in rehab facilities, nursing care facilities, or even patients’ homes. There are more opportunities, in other words, for nurses to bring care to patients, and not the other way around.
Again, changes like these are positive. New telehealth opportunities, expanding roles for nurses outside of hospitals and physicians’ offices, and similar changes are bringing more flexibility and specialized care to medicine. Crucially though, these changes concern remote care that has been brought about intentionally. By contrast, COVID-19 has forced many medical professionals even further toward remote care that may be necessary — but isn’t sustainable.
What we mean by this is that outside of major hospitals and medical facilities, a lot of physicians have struggled to maintain their practices. Closed doctors’ offices likely number in the thousands according to some early research, all as a result of the dangers of the pandemic. Now, some of the same physicians and nurses who have been forced out of offices have been able to engage in various forms of remote care. But when this comes about due to necessity, rather than in a strategic way engineered for progress, patient needs are less likely to be met. Right now, COVID patients and other patients alike are being underserved due to the struggles of physicians to stay in their offices.
Fortunately, at least in many cases, we don’t expect this to be a permanent issue. Rather, it’s just one more reason we need to get COVID-19 under control. And one way to do just that is to conduct more asymptomatic testing.
This was essentially confirmed by a university study on testing. Specifically, as part of its effort to establish a somewhat ordinary educational calendar for the 2020-21 school year, Duke University conducted widespread coronavirus testing (nearly 70,000 tests on just over 10,000 students over a 10-week period). Relatively few students tested positive, but 51% of those who did were asymptomatic. It’s an isolated testing situation, but it indicates just how much could be accomplished via more testing. By catching cases in asymptomatic students, Duke was able to significantly reduce the potential for spread, and ultimately keep the university open and — relatively speaking — safe.
Clearly, this is a much more difficult feat to accomplish on a societal level. However, at-home testing can get us closer, and it appears we’re on the cusp of seeing a lot more of it. Reports on a deal for rapid at-home testing kits secured by the Biden administration indicate that very soon, Americans will have the ability to “regularly screen themselves” so as to catch cases even without symptoms. At this stage, that probably doesn’t mean that all of us will be able to test every day. However, it does mean that people can be more responsible about venturing out of their homes — particularly for necessary activities, like visits to the doctor.
In short, we could be looking at a new level of safety that would allow for physicians to reopen their offices for good. Patients who need to be seen in person can make appointments and then test themselves at home — symptoms or no symptoms — to ensure that it’s safe for them to visit. This largely removes the risk of COVID spreading through physicians’ offices, even if it will be a while before COVID-19 is controlled more broadly.
Even with this change in place, telehealth and remote care practices for doctors and nurses will remain. But they’ll go back to being matters of choice and convenience, rather than necessity. With at-home, asymptomatic testing, regular doctor visits should resume, and this aspect of society, at least, should get back to normal.
Content written for carevoyance.com by Joanne Brown