Before the emergence of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, less than 20% of all people in the United States used some form of telemedicine. However, as the virus spread, more healthcare institutions turned to alternative ways to provide services to patients while limiting in-person visits and interactions.
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Met with unprecedented demand, “telehealth” emerged as a more broadly available solution during the pandemic. Throughout the past several months, this solution has evolved to meet the growing and changing needs in the healthcare industry.
Telehealth for Anesthesiologists
While there are some intraoperative uses, most of the available telemedicine options for anesthesiologists are preoperative and postoperative. Although there are very few extensive reports available on this subject, as anesthesiologists adapt to this learning curve, some of the observances of uses and requirements associated with tele-anesthesia process include:
- Video examinations to define the urgency of patients’ needs
- On-site nurse with the patient for tele-examination
- Digital stethoscope tools to obtain patient vitals and visual examination of the patient
- Discussion patient medical history
- Remote guidance of intraoperative management
- Real-time surveillance of multiple anesthetizing sites
- Recovery management
- Rehabilitation after discharge through remote monitoring
- Oversight of pain management
- Ability to record recovery milestones
While these actions are performed during the telemedicine process, an in-person review and physical examination still occur on the day of the procedure. Since a significant amount of the information is gathered through various remote tools before the patient comes on-site, the anesthesiology process is faster and reduces the time the patient and anesthesiologist come into contact.
Evaluating Telehealth in Anesthesiology
Telemedicine does pose some privacy concerns. Patients share personal details about themselves and their medical history over a network platform, and the video examination of these patients often includes exposure of their chest. However, studies have shown that patients and anesthesiologists are either satisfied or very satisfied with the telemedicine process.
Anesthesiology through telemedicine has benefits that reach beyond the social distancing measures brought about by COVID-19. Hospitalized patients for whom traveling to another hospital would pose significant risks, such as medically fragile infants, can now have their history reviewed, hearts and lungs examined, and have their procedures discussed remotely. Additionally, in low-income areas, local access to anesthesiology professionals is often lacking. Tele-access to these services could reduce these disparities at a much more affordable cost.
As the processes become more efficient, tele-anesthesia has the potential to be a very positive development in providing anesthesia and surgical services when conditions call for remote care and when patients are located significant distances away from providers.
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