Since mid-March, Hartford HealthCare has seen a rise in the use of telemedicine with nearly 316,000 virtual visits. Hartford HealthCare says the growth is seen in all areas, including primary care, specialty care, and behavioral health.
“It’s a simple way to access the care,” said Hartford HealthCare Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Ajay Kumar.
For many patients, an in-person visit may not be ideal which is why so many have turned to technology to help.
“In my opinion, the virtual health has provided really critical access to patients and families at the moment to connect to the healthcare system as access becomes tight in the times of the pandemic,” said Kumar.
While telemedicine can’t replace all in-person visits, Kumar says there’s a fair amount of information physicians can gather from a patient during a virtual visit. But he and other health experts say there’s a concern about the digital divide.
“Our concern generally has been in the world of telemedicine or virtual health is that, are we supporting all segments of the population or some segment of the population? The segments of the population may or may not have access to the internet. They don’t have devices to access or the knowledge, to a certain extent, and I think that’s where the divide is concerning for healthcare professionals,” said Kumar.
Dr. Kumar says they don’t have enough data to determine whether the digital divide is impacting families in certain areas but says they’ve seen more than 12,000 online visits in Hartford, one of the highest utilizers of the tech, with New Britain as the second highest.
“I think the data will tell over time, we will learn more about how do we optimize to make sure that access to care is universal and appropriate for all segments of population,” said Kumar.
He says some of those solutions could include communities providing more internet access and having devices at the library that patients can use. Dr. Kumar believes the virtual health model will likely continue and change.
“There is technology we are experimenting in Hartford HealthCare with supplying the kits to the patient’s home so they can check the blood pressure and they can do some basic vital examination and send the details to the doctors as well. So I think our digital innovation and evolution is going to continue to change and we will have a much better platform over the time to deliver the care,” said Kumar.