COVID-19: Companies offering new technology to connect physicians with patients

May 6, 2020
David Hutton

In the months since social distancing and stay-at-home orders became the norm, many ophthalmologists have conducted visits with patients through telemedicine-providing ophthalmic care using the internet and telecommunications technology. 

As ophthalmologists take steps to relaunch ophthalmology care, a range of options that can allow physicians to offer telemedicine options continue to emerge.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology issued a practice guidance urging ophthalmologists to cease providing “any treatment other than urgent or emergent care.” The group late last month began taking steps to consider the process of reopening ophthalmology care.

However, in the months since social distancing and stay-at-home orders became the norm, many ophthalmologists have conducted visits with patients through telemedicine-providing ophthalmic care using the internet and telecommunications technology. People who never wanted to try telemedicine before are suddenly getting a crash course in how it works.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine in eye care was more of a concept than a fully developed reality. In the midst of the pandemic, telemedicine is no longer a futuristic concept. Calling patients at home, with or without video, has become the new normal for an increasing number of ophthalmologists.

Tools for telemedicine

As a result, companies are developing new tools to help physicians stay ahead of shifting telemedicine trends.

One company is medical network Doximity, which has launched a new tool to keep physicians in contact with their patients face-to-face from a smartphone.

Doximity is the largest professional medical network for U.S. healthcare professionals, with more than 70% of US doctors and 45% of all NPs and physician assistants as members.

Clinicians can use Doximity on their iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Android device or computer to securely connect and collaborate with other healthcare professionals about patient treatment, identify appropriate experts for patient referrals, and manage their careers.

Doximity Dialer Video is the company’s first telemedicine offering and enables doctors to video call their patients with a single click over an encrypted connection which complies with HIPAA privacy regulation on their own iOS or Android smartphone without any additional setup for doctors or patients, according to a news release.

“Dialer Video is simple, fast and compatible with any smartphone,” Joel Davis, senior vice president and head of product at Doximity said in the release. “Physicians can now easily select a video call in the Doximity app with one click. Patients are then sent a text message inviting them to talk. As soon as they accept, they are transported to a video chat with their doctor. Doctors on the front lines asked us for a secure and reliable telemedicine tool, and we moved quickly to fulfill that need.”

Additional features include:

  • Custom CallerID. Physicians can set the CallerID to their hospital or office line, which makes it more likely that patients will recognize the caller and pick-up. The doctor’s private cell phone number is always protected.

  • Full HIPAA Compliance. Patient calls are encrypted, kept private and never recorded.

  • Epic Haiku integration. Authorized care team members can initiate calls to patients seamlessly from within Epic’s mobile electronic health record app.

The launch comes at a time where more and more physicians are forced to turn to telemedicine to treat their patients as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has put a pause on most primary care office visits.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dialer Video is available for free through January 2021 with a paid enterprise version, Doximity Dialer Pro, also available for hospital-wide deployments.

Other features of the Doximity app have also been extended to members of the Doximity physician members’ teams including Dialer, a secure voice calling feature, according to the company’s news release.

Targeting virtual specialty care

Another company, CheckedUp, a specialty medicine digital point of care company, has announced the launch of CheckedUp Virtual Visits, a telemedicine system designed to redefine virtual specialty care.

CheckedUp Virtual Visits, designed by physicians for physicians, was created to keep patients and physicians at the center of pivotal healthcare decisions as “point of care” engagement evolves with patient needs and becomes increasingly digital.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter the world’s “new normal,” CheckedUp offers a service that redefines the virtual consultation experience. Its platform empowers specialty care physicians, patients, and industry partners in several ways.

Mark Goethals, vice president of marketing at CheckedUp, said the company’s leadership team viewed the COVID-19 crisis as an “unprecedented challenge requiring an innovative response.”

“Our efforts are focused on a new, post-COVID healthcare delivery landscape, delivering the service and functionality of a virtual examination room to patients and enabling providers to deliver superior virtual patient care,” he said. “CheckedUp Virtual Visits allows physicians to meet their patients when and where they are, while providing innovative tools for providers and patients during their digital consultation. We are also happy to extend that accessibility to our partners in the life sciences, so that they can be a part of tomorrow’s healthcare conversations.”

According to the press release, CheckedUp Virtual Visits simplifies scheduling and operations, allows patients to see the dedicated specialist they know and trust, and brings the same easy to use technologies physicians use in the physical exam room, into the virtual realm.

“Current telemedicine systems, while serving an important role today, offer very little by way of additional in-office technologies, making exceptional care possible,” said Dan Schwartz, senior vice president, sponsorship sales, CheckedUp. “We expect to change that.”

CheckedUp Virtual Visits is designed to replicate the patient and physician experience in a virtual setting, streamline administrative efforts by tracking physicians' personal notes and information regarding every consult, and remain HIPAA Compliant.

Steps to reopen practice

Late last month the AAO discussed how a return to practice may work.

According to David W. Parke II, MD, CEO of the AAO, while the Academy’s recommendation to curtail ophthalmic practice was national in scope, the decisions to return to more normal practice will be made on a local and regional basis.

“They will be based on local and state governments, on public health authorities interpreting local patterns of disease, on testing availability, on institutional policies and ultimately on individual ophthalmologists,” he wrote. “While we closed routine practice nationally, we will open locally.” Parke stressed that ophthalmology is not “returning to normal.”

“The lessons learned from COVID-19 may mean that the normal of January 2020 may never approximate the normal of the future,” he added. “We will have the SARS-CoV-2 virus with us for years. We will always have the memory of what it means to shelter in place for weeks on end, to furlough staff and to defer patient care. What we must do now is develop the processes to provide patient care in a new normal.”

The AAO recently hosted a webinar to offer an update on the most recent understanding of the virus’s behavior, address current controversies, outline the best measures for patient care, and help physicians decide how and when to fully reopen their practices.

Going forward

In the future, new infections and more deaths will continue to occur. Smaller outbreaks will develop.

Medically speaking, surgeons can begin to perform surgeries but there will be new exposures and small increases in virus cases, which will require a more rigorous return to using masks and avoiding crowds, until the numbers again begin to drop.

This scenario may have to be repeated again and again over months at least to avoid a second big disease surge, he said. In the future, an effective widely available vaccine and herd immunity are necessary to stop COVID-19.

Antibody testing is needed, as is the need for evidence regarding modes of transmission, potential for aerosolization of virus by various procedures, spectrum of disease manifestations, immunity, and sensitivity and specificity of various antibody tests and their implications.

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