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Use of Telemedicine Technology Curbs Spread of Flu

Use of Telemedicine Technology Curbs Spread of Flu

With flu season well underway, everyone knows someone who is, or has been recently infected.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has already declared the illness to be at epidemic status with 43 states reporting either high to widespread flu activity. And while doctors are bracing for a particularly long and challenging flu season, many doctors are turning to telemedicine technology to diagnose their patients and keep contagious patients out of crowded hospitals and waiting rooms. Long used by the Department of Veterans Affairs and rural doctors, more health professionals are incorporating telemedicine technology such as integrated video chat to consult with their patients, determine a course of treatment, reduce new infections and increase continuity of care.

Doctors in Tennessee have been asking their patients exhibiting flu-like systems to not come into their offices to avoid spreading the virus to other patients and staff in the waiting room. Doctor William Schaffner, the chair of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville has advised, “If you’re really feeling crummy and you have the symptoms of influenza, your chances of having influenza are very, very high — over 90 percent. Doctors are saying I don’t need to do a test because sometimes the test is negative even if you have influenza.” So Schaffner and other primary care physicians are consulting with their patients by video chat to provide medical advice and prescriptions and advising that friends or family members pick up the patient’s prescriptions limiting the exposure in public places. In Tennessee, where influenza has been considered to be an epidemic for over two weeks, three children have already died from the virus and doctors are on high alert to curb its spread.

A number of primary care doctors in Colorado are also using telemedicine to prevent the spread of flu. At every hospital entrance to the University of Colorado Hospital you will see signs warning of influenza. Dr. Michelle Barron, a specialist in infectious disease has been seeing patients via telemedicine technology saying, “The key to a lot of infectious diseases is to keep it contained…The danger of having somebody that’s infectious sitting in a waiting room is that other people that are around them, they can get sick and they can continue to spread the flu.” Using telemedicine technology to diagnose and treat the flu is not only a cost and time efficient system for patients and doctors alike, but by limiting patient exposure, many people can be spared from the virus that is proving to be increasingly resistant to flu vaccines. If the vaccination isn’t as successful as in previous years, limiting exposure is crucial to keeping people healthy and safe.

With prestigious establishments adopting even the simplest of telemedicine technology, it could be this year’s flu that pushes telemedicine into the mainstream of American healthcare. Especially if the utilization of telemedicine technology ultimately leads to reduced transmission rates of the flu, adoption in the diagnosis and treatment of other infectious diseases and chronic conditions may be soon to follow.

Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, estimates that currently 12 million Americans are being served in some form of telemedicine technology and that the number is likely to double in 2015. As doctors and patients alike familiarize themselves with telemedicine, the benefits become increasingly obvious for all parties. And though there are times where there is no substitute for hospital admittance or a physical checkup, many doctors are optimistic about the uses of telemedicine for flu treatment and beyond.