Healthcare Workers: The Heroes of COVID-19 and the Rise of Telehealth

healthcare workers

Overcrowded and understaffed hospitals, a lack of personal protective equipment, and lapses in testing have created a world of uncertainty for healthcare workers around the globe. But with the rise of telehealth and dedicated healthcare workers, the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder to the public that not all heroes wear capes.

Healthcare Workers: The Heroes of COVID-19 and the Rise of Telehealth

Actors and actresses dole out free public health announcements to discuss the realities of the situation. Musicians unite their fans by belting out ballads of hope. And people sing together from their balconies to boost morale. Together, the world has banded together to minimize the physical, social, and emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these gestures have been labeled “heroic,” and in some respects, they are. Using your talents, clout, or identity to provide positivity is something that rallies the masses and provides a sense of unity. But no one can doubt the heroic actions of healthcare workers on the frontlines. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these selfless individuals have been overworked, underpaid, and had to provide care without the proper personal protective equipment.

If there is a sliver of a silver lining during the pandemic, it’s that for a portion of healthcare workers who are so admirably committed to their calling, they may get a chance to see patients via the internet than in-person. That’s just what the $40 billion telehealth industry plans to achieve. With the lack of healthcare options in rural areas and the increase in broadband internet speeds, telehealth will undoubtedly become the new norm in the healthcare industry.

Stories from Healthcare Workers Amid COVID-19

Politics aside, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused working conditions that few healthcare workers — including those who volunteered during Ebola or cholera epidemics — have experienced. A severe lack of preparation, protocol, and supplies has pushed these individuals into harm’s way. Exacerbating the matter is the spread of misinformation and denial from national organizations and officials about COVID-19. Yet even with all the chaos, healthcare workers continue their valiant effort to curb the virus.

These 15 stories from the COVID-19 frontlines are especially helpful at understanding the plights of hospital personnel, the uncertainty of the future, and how these people cope on a daily basis. With limited testing abilities, citizens breaking shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders, and COVID-19 cluster spreads, the heroism is not only apparent in the actions of healthcare workers, but also in gripping the reality of a prolonged pandemic.

Healthcare Workers and Telehealth During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Due to the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, inpatient care is risky for healthcare workers. That’s what makes telehealth services such an exciting and viable alternative, especially for treating patients that are suffering from other ailments. Legislators have noticed.

With funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Federal Communications Commission has rolled out a $200 million program to fund telehealth programs for providers throughout the country. Not only is this integral to the protection of healthcare workers, but it also pushes telehealth into the national limelight as a viable healthcare alternative.

The CARES Act, as well as the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, has provided funding and looser restrictions on telehealth services, waiving fees, increasing the list of eligible providers, and waiving other requirements that could limit the ability of workers to treat patients remotely.

Telehealth and the Cost Savings of Remote Healthcare

Since 2010, the healthcare industry has seen a significant rise in telehealth and virtual consultations. Hospitals have cited an increase in these services from just 35% in 2010 to 76% in 2017. The reasoning behind such a rise is not only to reach patients with limited mobility or living in rural regions but also to drastically reduce the cost of healthcare for all parties.

Healthcare, even for the insured, is one of the biggest expenses facing Americans, totaling roughly $5,000 per person per year — an astronomical 740% increase since 1984. In many instances, proper healthcare can cause patients to suffer financial difficulties or fall into debt that cripples their ability to obtain credit. Uninsured citizens face even more uncertainty, larger bills, and the chance of denial of treatment, further emphasizing the need for low-cost treatment.

In addition, healthcare workers can benefit from telehealth and telemedicine services. With more autonomy to meet with patients and a reduction in unnecessary patient visits to healthcare facilities, workers can provide more comprehensive healthcare to those who need it most.

Although financials vary from state to state, total cost savings estimates have ranged from 19% to 50%, which was the findings of a two-year-old telehealth program at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Frederick, Maryland. Cost reductions come as a result of:

  • Triage services via tele-visits instead of in-person
  • Digital health-monitoring systems that allow doctors to check in on patients remotely
  • The advent of remote health analysis, such as teleradiology and telepathology
  • Reduction in patient transfer and transportation costs

With all of these effective cost-cutting measures, 93% of telehealth and telemedicine patients have reported savings over traditional healthcare, a number that underlies the importance of a partial transition to telehealth. Experts estimate that the spread of COVID-19 may last anywhere from 12 to 18 months. As such, the need for telehealth and the spread of services will continue to push its popularity, opening the job market for qualified professionals and aspiring healthcare workers.

Potential Barriers to Telehealth Coverage

The cost savings, efficiency, and convenience benefits of telehealth are apparent. Yet there are still potential barriers to a complete program rollout and comprehensive coverage.

Reimbursement

Reimbursement is unequivocally the foremost barrier to telehealth expansion. Medicare and private health insurance companies have certain restrictions and limits on what telehealth services can be billed. State Medicaid programs either suffer from the same affliction or have no specific terms involving telehealth, further delaying pay or denying coverage altogether.

Lack of or Inadequate Parity Laws

Telehealth parity laws would require insurance providers to reimburse healthcare workers and facilities for telehealth in the same manner as inpatient care. Unfortunately, these aren’t nationalized laws, and they vary from state to state. Without parity laws, insurance companies aren’t required to pay for telehealth, leaving patients wary of using such a service.

Prescriptions

Controlled substances are difficult to legally prescribe via telehealth, putting patients at risk. In addition, new patients may be denied prescription medication from doctors for a certain length of time or until they build a rapport.

Licensing

Despite the digital nature of telehealth services, the law still sees them as taking place at the home of the patient. As a result, healthcare workers must have the proper license to practice outside of a healthcare facility.

Although the barriers and red tape to telehealth may hinder growth in some areas of the country, the convenience and lower costs may fast-track legislative solutions, expand programs from hospitals and healthcare facilities, and be included in coverage from insurance providers.

Regardless of their location or proximity to their patients, all healthcare workers fit the description of frontline heroes. With an unwavering commitment to their oath and empathy for their patients, nurses, doctors, and other workers are providing a bright outlook in an otherwise dark time.

The Future of Telehealth After COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on healthcare systems across the world. And while telehealth has been a prominent way of handling certain aspects of the virus, the future of these remote services remains bright. But aside from convenience and lowering costs, a driving force behind the future of telehealth is data.

Very simply, the dissemination of data is essential in saving lives. Telehealth streamlines this flow of information, greatly improving healthcare practices, saving lives, money, and time in the process. As more governments and healthcare organizations see the benefits of telehealth and the economic advantages of such care, the future of telehealth looks strong.

How to Find a Healthcare Worker Job During the Rise of Telehealth

Despite the barriers to telehealth coverage, many companies are embracing the industry and technology. Intermediary startups have made telehealth more visible to healthcare providers, as well as reducing logistical and administrative costs. Many healthcare organizations have also started programs as a way to reach more patients, improve efficiency, and increase their bottom line. Together, this adds up to more open doors and opportunities for telehealth employees and careers.

Finding a career in the telehealth industry is similar to landing a position as an onsite healthcare worker. Experience, education, and expertise in a particular field will enhance your profile, but you may also need a few additional qualities to work in the telehealth profession:

  • A focused resume and cover letter that includes your accomplishments and relevant experience
  • Basic to intermediate knowledge of remote teleconferencing services such as Zoom or Skype
  • A clean healthcare record
  • Soft skills such as communication and attention to detail that would translate well to telehealth
  • Medical licenses in multiple states to increase the number of places where you can practice and improve your job flexibility
  • Credentials such as a Board Certified TeleMental Health Provider, a Telehealth Nursing Certification, or a certification from the American Telemedicine Association

Most Popular Telehealth Careers

Healthcare organizations must have a huge array of specialists and experienced employees to provide proper care to their patients. If you’re breaking into the industry or setting your sights on a particular specialization, here are some of the most popular telehealth and telemedicine jobs:

  • Telehealth radiologist
  • Telehealth nurse (RN and LPN)
  • Telehealth therapist
  • Telehealth speech-language pathologist
  • Telehealth pharmacist
  • Telehealth physician

If your expertise lies outside of these areas, don’t stress. The dynamic world of telehealth and its rapid expansion is sure to create a high demand for healthcare workers with all levels of experience and education.

 

Opportunities are available in many healthcare fields for licensed professionals to work remotely as either their primary mode of employment, or as a supplement to their current practice or job. For more information, check out the healthcare telecommute toolkit. In this guide, you will find access to information about jobs in the healthcare industry, as well as detailed information regarding opportunities with companies that are always looking for qualified healthcare professionals to work in a telecommute capacity.

 

Are you as humbled as we are by healthcare workers on the frontlines of COVID-19? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to tell us what you think. We’d love to hear from you!

iStock image: Halfpoint

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