Telemedicine and COVID-19 will be forever linked. For many years, there’s been a big push to promote telemedicine as a way to contain costs, improve the delivery of care, and meet consumer demand. Some in the medical community have been resistant.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, that may have changed forever.

Telemedicine and COVID-19 Work Together

In recent years, telemedicine’s growth has been incremental. In 2019, it was used by only eight percent of Americans. Outside of rural medicine, there were few compelling reasons to replace in-person care.

Now telemedicine and COVID-19 work together because virtual appointments became the only feasible way to treat most patients in order to promote the health and safety of patient and physician. Now that this quarantine has continued for an extended period of time, the growing familiarity with the new way of doing business may mean that it has now become a real alternative to many office visits.

Study on Use of Telemedicine During COVID-19 Pandemic

According to a new study led by researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine, NYU Tandon School of Engineering and NYU School of Global Public Health, a rapid increase in “virtual” visits during the COVID-19 pandemic could transform the way physicians provide care in the United States going forward.

The findings, published online this week in the Journal of the American Informatics Association, captures the largest experience to date of the speed, scale and rapid expansion of video-enabled visits by patients and providers.

  • Between March 2 and April 14, 2020, virtual urgent care visits at NYU Langone Health grew by 683 percent.
  • During that same time, non-urgent virtual care visits grew by an unprecedented 4,345 percent in response to COVID-19.

Using NYU Langone’s enterprise electronic health record system Epic, the researchers captured COVID-related visits using diagnostic codes containing relevant respiratory issues and matched them with keywords describing symptoms including fever, shortness of breath, cough, and more.

Over a six-week period, the investigators found:

  • There were 144,940 video visits conducted involving 115,789 unique patients and 2,656 unique providers.
  • Of all virtual visits, 56.2 percent of urgent care and 17.6 percent of non-urgent visits were COVID-19-related.
  • The increase in telemedicine urgent care was enabled by a rapid increase in urgent care providers. A pool of 40 emergency medicine providers, managing less than 100 visits on a typical day, grew to 289 “surge” providers from multiple specialties.
  • On March 19, NYU Langone Health expanded video visits to all of its ambulatory care settings, reaching more than 7,000 visits within 10 days and representing more than 70 percent of total ambulatory care volume during this time.
  • Telemedicine usage was highest by patients aged 20 to 44 years, particularly for urgent care. However, patients of all ages were able to use the technology across NYU Langone’s telemedicine platform.
  • Patients’ satisfaction ratings with telemedicine visits remained positive, despite the rapid expansion of the program to thousands of new providers.

Comments from Researchers

According to Devin Mann, MD, associate professor in the Departments of Population Health and Medicine at Langone Health and the study’s lead author:

“The pandemic created an urgent need to divert patients from in-patient care and prevent the flooding of our emergency rooms beyond capacity.

Through telemedicine, we pushed the frontlines to locations far from our hospitals and doctor’s offices. And because NYU Langone invested early in this technology, we quickly leveraged digital health to help hundreds of thousands of patients.”

Oded Nov, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Technology Management and Innovation at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, and the study’s senior author says that:

“Through this massive expansion, the numbers of providers and patients who experienced telemedicine for the first time increased dramatically, facilitating transformation of technologies and work practices across multiple medical specialties. 

An important question going forward is how much this will continue beyond the COVID pandemic. While we expect patients and providers who got a crash course in telemedicine to continue using it long term, regulators and insurers’ decisions will have a major impact.”

Click here to read about telemedicine and COVID-19.