Telehealth companies are facing a massive influx of patients and huge backlogs as coronavirus spreads – and will see more as Trump expands services to Medicare recipients
- Telehealth services say they are seeing a huge increase in the number of patients as the coronavirus outbreak spreads across the US
- Some companies say their number of visits have doubled or quadrupled over the last two weeks
- But workers and CEOs worry their systems can’t handle the influx and that there are not enough doctors to provide virtual care
- More backlogs are sure to come after President Donald Trump expanded telemedicine services to Medicare patients
- In the US, there are more than 6,500 confirmed cases and 115 deaths
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
Telehealth companies are struggling to handle the influx of patients turning to online and phone services as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread.
Some companies say their number of visits have doubled or quadrupled over the last two weeks, and as a result – people are seeing longer wait times.
Then, on Tuesday, President Donald Trump expanded telemedecine services to all Americans covered by Medicare.
This will help millions of older people – and others at high-risk – to receive care while following public health advice to stay home.
But this also means that these companies will be receiving millions of new patients with systems that can only handle so many people and not enough doctors to treat all of them.
Telemedicine companies say they’re seeing a huge increase in the number of patients as the coronavirus outbreak spreads across the US (file image)
Some companies say their number of visits have doubled or quadrupled over the last two weeks. Pictured: Family nurse practitioner Schquthia Peacock prepares to do a nasal swab for a coronavirus test in the parking lot of Preston Medical Associates in North Carolina, Tuesday
Workers and CEOs worry their systems can’t handle the influx and that there are not enough doctors to provide virtual care. Pictured: Medical personnel work at a drive-thru coronavirus testing station at the West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, Louisiana, Tuesday
Telehealth companies told STAT they were first excited about the increase in new customers, but they are now experiencing a large pileup.
‘You can get the technology to support these astounding volumes,’ Roy Schoenberg, CEO of telemedicine company American Well, told the website.
‘But you’re very quickly getting to a point where the supply of medical services isn’t there. We need to have enough clinicians to allow us to handle that incoming volume.’
Several companies are trying to upgrade their systems, both to handle the rising number of patients and the numbers of doctors providing virtual care.
American Well said that despite two recent system updates, patients often have to wait half-an-hour or more for a visit.
Jefferson Health, a telemedicine company based in Pennsylvania, says it has generally seen a rise in business during flu season, when miserably sick people want to avoid an in-person visit.
But in the last week, the number of telemedicine visits quadrupled, according to HealthDay.
Dr Judd Hollander, an emergency medicine physician at Jefferson Health, told the site that new providers are being trained to meet the demand.
‘We’re basically begging anyone with some spare minutes to take on a visit,’ he said.
Despite the difficulty to provide virtual care to so many, he says he encourages everyone to stay home as much as possible.
More backlogs are sure to come after President Donald Trump expanded telemedicine services to Medicare patients. Pictured: Trump at the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on Tuesday
Doctor on Demand, a San Francisco-based telehealth company, said it has seen a two-fold increase in patients and that wait times have gotten longer.
The number of suspected cases of COVID-19 we are seeing doubles each day,’ president and chief commercial officer, Robin Cherry, told STAT.
Worldwide, more than 204,000 people have been infected and more than 8,000 people have died.
In the US, there are more than 6,500 confirmed cases across all 50 states and more than 100 people have died.