Telehealth innovation spurred amid COVID with virtual visits, wearable monitoring devices


Telehealth is giving a whole new meaning to the term "house call" as the technology connecting doctor and patient is expanding to include primary care visits to cancer care.

While the coronavirus put a stop to many in-person doctors’ appointments, it also spurred innovation in the health industry. Mobile apps, online portals, even basic telephone calls are being used in unprecedented ways by Washington metro area patients. Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic said the spike reached 1,000,000 video visits at the end of January with a “3,700 percent increase in all telehealth services from 2019 to 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“In a way, COVID helped win over physicians to accept telemedicine in ways that we hadn’t before, perhaps,” said Dr. Richard McCarthy, executive medical director of Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic.

Rachel Gray didn’t need convincing to use the technology.

“I have really fallen in love with the video visits,” she told ABC7 News reporter Victoria Sanchez during a Zoom interview.

Gray uses virtual appointments for everything like checkups, therapy, even cancer care. In the first few months of the pandemic, she noticed a “suspicious” spot on her back.

“Very tiny but I just hadn’t seen it there before,” Gray explained.

She snapped a photo and emailed her physician who suggested in-person treatment.

“I had it biopsied and it was melanoma,” she said. “For me to have the access to send that photo off immediately to a doctor, I don’t know if I would have caught it at stage zero.”

Follow up visits were done online.

“I sent in pictures once the site healed after having surgical removal. That prevented me from having to come in, which was wonderful.”

Virtual care is expanding even further with remote data monitoring using wearable devices. Dr. McCarthy said information like heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels can be sent directly to doctors.

“And in that way, we can ensure that the patient is safe at home, anticipate any changes in the patients’ condition, be able to provide innovative care at home such as IV antibodies, elective blood transfusions, blood draws for patients that would benefit from it,” he said.

After COVID, Dr. McCarthy believes patients will continue to have the option on how they get care, either online or in the office.


Originally published on WJLA. 

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