Telehealth: A Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Current Dilemma

With health officials being increasingly adamant about the need to self-quarantine and avoid face to face interaction, many businesses and organizations, even essential ones, are opting for ways to conduct business remotely.

The healthcare system has been forced to see patients remotely whenever possible, and several offices and facilities throughout the U.S. are temporarily closing down.

Many of the practices closing are mental health or substance abuse treatment facilities, leaving those in need of care scrambling to find a way to keep their mental health and/or addiction under control. It is important to keep in mind individuals suffering from Substance Use Disorder (SUD) in particular are in need of services during this time, as treatment is often a necessity for them to avoid relapse, homelessness, crime, or unstable mental well-being. Much of their support is social support gained by attending meetings or programs with a high volume of people, which goes against social distancing guidelines. For many, being able to meet with their clinicians or attend their groups is essential, especially during a time where stress and anxiety levels are high. Telehealth has been a major relief in solving this dilemma, accessible via platforms like Zoobook Systems that are working to aid facilities struggling to stay open.

The Rise of Telehealth

The inability for providers and patients to meet in person, or the risks associated with it, can be mitigated with the use of telehealth and telemedicine. Using video conferencing tools, clinicians can easily continue to provide talk therapy to those who need it, without clinician or patient putting themselves at risk. They can also, on many telehealth platforms, e-prescribe necessary medications remotely to patients who require it. Due to COVID-19, Federal and State guidelines are shifting to allow more access to take-home medications. According to an updated DCBA policy in response to this pandemic, providers will be able to prescribe buprenorphine using electronic communication (telemedicine) to those who may be experiencing withdrawal. Telehealth for behavioral health services is proven to be equally as effective as face to face meetings, including for group therapy sessions. This increases accessibility for those self-isolating and is much safer than meeting with a clinician in person.

Telehealth is going to be the new norm during these times, so it is crucial as a provider to be aware of platforms that are willing to offer their services to allow you to continue offering treatment. Zoobook System, an electronic health records (EHR) platform with a telehealth component, is dedicated to helping clinicians and treatment facilities continue to meet with patients remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Zoobook is a comprehensive system equipped with multiple clinical modules, but given the current healthcare crisis, Zoobook is currently offering its telehealth services separately to provide immediate assistance to clinicians in need. It is worth noting that Zoobook’s telehealth service is secure and HIPAA compliant, so patient’s health information will remain confidential, something that is not possible through your average video chat, phone call, or text message.

Patients considering telehealth are often worried about insurance coverage, which could become a barrier when switching to telehealth services. However, due to the crisis, it is likely that some insurance companies will take action to help patients receive access to these services. Medicare made the decision to expand coverage to make telehealth more accessible. If all insurers act in good faith, we will be able to ensure that people will not have to take a risk making the trip to a doctor’s office when they can receive equally effective services from the comfort of their own homes.

Beyond this pandemic, the convenience telehealth provides cannot be overlooked. For some time now, it has been used to increase healthcare accessibility, especially for those in underserved or rural populations. It also eliminates the need for travel costs, waiting rooms, or having to rearrange one’s schedule just to visit a facility or office. Perhaps with the necessity to resort to telehealth during this pandemic, many will become used to meeting remotely, and will be inclined to continue this treatment method moving forward once society returns to its former state.

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