The coronavirus pandemic could push telemedicine into the mainstream

Telemedicine technology isn't new, but the coronavirus pandemic has brought an explosion of new users to its platforms. The question is, will this newfound popularity last in a post-pandemic world?

Posted: Apr 28, 2020 8:49 AM


Telemedicine has been around for more than two decades, but its adoption among Americans has been relatively low. The coronavirus pandemic is quickly changing that.

With millions of people around the country forced to stay home in lockdown and worried about potentially exposing themselves to the virus, many of them are turning to telemedicine companies' virtual consultation services. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people that contract the coronavirus only suffer mild illness and can recover without leaving their homes. Telemedicine companies are stepping in to give patients a chance to talk through their symptoms and decide if they need to be hospitalized.

CareClix, a virtual health platform based in Alexandria, VA, has more than 20 million users across the US and says it saw a 50% increase in usage in March. Zipnosis, another telemedicine company based in Minneapolis, reported a 3,600% increase in virtual visits on its platform over an 11-day period last month.

"Unfortunately, it's taken some pretty extraordinary circumstances, but I think this will be a watershed moment for the industry," Zipnosis CEO Jon Pearce told CNN Business. "Certainly in the past few weeks with Covid, I think people's desire to have trusted advice from medical providers is just gone through the roof ... and that's what we can facilitate in a very fast fashion. And more importantly, we can facilitate that without leaving your home."

Both companies have different approaches to telemedicine.

CareClix, founded in 2012, connects patients to doctors through an on-demand video platform that attempts to recreate the in-person experience in a virtual setting — similar to chatting with your doctor on FaceTime.

"We really try to mimic what's done in brick and mortar," said CareClix co-founder and CEO John Korangy. "From the user's perspective for the patient and... the doctor, they're not doing anything different than they would if you came and saw me face to face. The only thing different is now we have a monitor in between us."

While CareClix's technology is used by hospital networks and healthcare providers around the US, the company also has an internal team of doctors that can provide remote services to patients.

Zipnosis, on the other hand, operates in what is known as asynchronous care — where the doctor and patient don't need to be in the same place (even virtually) at the same time. The company, founded over a decade ago, has users fill out a virtual questionnaire through a chatbot-like tool that packages their responses for a doctor to review and diagnose. Zipnosis claims this can dramatically speed up the process, allowing doctors to make a diagnosis in an average of 89 seconds.

"Instead of talking to a doctor over video, you would answer a series of yes [or] no questions," Pearce said, "the same questions they would be asking you in real life when instead of doing that, we have a really smart computer system do it."

Telemedicine has its limitations — some complex diagnoses and treatment may require in-person interactions. If a patient appears particularly sick, telemedicine companies will recommend they go to a clinic or hospital. But the technology can play an important role in easing some of the initial load from walk-ins, particularly as the global pandemic places strain on the healthcare system and makes people nervous about being exposed to the virus.

"What's happening is that people are worried," said Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, a non-profit organization focused on increasing the adoption of virtual health technologies. "People don't know really what to do, where to go, whether or not they should get a test for the virus. And so the hospitals are really deeply concerned about managing exposure."

CareClix has begun offering free Covid-19 evaluations to its users, while over 40% of health care providers that use Zipnosis's technology are also offering free screenings.

Johnson says telemedicine as a concept has been around for more than 25 years, but its adoption by both patients and doctors was relatively slow until the crisis. And there are still psychological barriers that need to be broken through.

"In point of fact, you all know that you've interacted with a physician or a clinician and have had them provide a lot of services to you without ever laying hands on you," she said. "So part of it is overcoming this myth that somehow it's second class medicine."

But the extraordinary circumstances created by the coronavirus appear to be leading to a breakout moment that telemedicine companies hope will sustain even after the crisis passes.

"It's been a desire of the industry for a long time where we stopped talking about telemedicine or virtual care and it just becomes healthcare," said Pearce. "And I think this will be the catalyst for that."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 68293

Reported Deaths: 1944
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5656118
DeSoto368031
Harrison253036
Madison244368
Rankin229235
Jackson228843
Jones191659
Forrest182056
Washington168942
Lee147941
Lauderdale141192
Neshoba128692
Lamar122614
Oktibbeha112739
Bolivar111834
Warren109533
Lowndes108538
Panola106214
Sunflower105425
Scott100320
Lafayette98317
Copiah95728
Leflore94765
Pike93836
Holmes90049
Grenada84921
Yazoo83312
Lincoln83241
Pontotoc8308
Simpson80330
Monroe80155
Leake79025
Wayne77421
Coahoma77213
Tate73629
Marshall7019
Marion68420
Union64316
Adams62925
Winston62316
Covington62113
George5895
Pearl River55439
Newton54311
Tallahatchie53011
Attala52325
Walthall50120
Chickasaw47019
Noxubee45912
Alcorn4345
Tishomingo4216
Calhoun4209
Prentiss41710
Claiborne40913
Smith40613
Clay39714
Hancock39514
Jasper3889
Itawamba37510
Tippah36713
Tunica3517
Clarke32626
Montgomery3265
Lawrence3228
Yalobusha31510
Humphreys29411
Quitman2701
Carroll26111
Greene25512
Perry2437
Amite2356
Webster23512
Kemper23414
Jefferson Davis2336
Wilkinson21113
Stone2055
Sharkey1995
Jefferson1957
Benton1431
Choctaw1354
Franklin1312
Issaquena262
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 99926

Reported Deaths: 1781
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson13258244
Mobile10517207
Montgomery6835149
Madison544734
Tuscaloosa423076
Baldwin365125
Unassigned363064
Shelby330936
Marshall318937
Lee270047
Morgan241118
Etowah216232
DeKalb183013
Calhoun180717
Elmore173138
Walker153964
Houston141912
Russell13872
St. Clair135418
Limestone134913
Dallas133123
Franklin128820
Cullman122712
Colbert120716
Lauderdale118919
Autauga117421
Escambia108717
Talladega104814
Jackson10144
Tallapoosa86579
Chambers84438
Dale83525
Clarke82610
Blount8124
Chilton8097
Butler76736
Coffee7646
Covington73720
Pike7087
Marion58026
Barbour5765
Lowndes57324
Marengo56515
Hale47826
Bullock46611
Winston45711
Perry4454
Washington44312
Bibb4425
Wilcox43210
Monroe4215
Pickens4049
Randolph40310
Conecuh39310
Sumter36418
Lawrence3512
Macon33914
Crenshaw3265
Choctaw28712
Cherokee2758
Henry2643
Clay2635
Geneva2631
Greene25211
Lamar2292
Fayette2125
Cleburne1271
Coosa1033
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