If telemedicine has been a critical, though lesser-known tool in many parts of the world, in preventing the transmission of COVID19, this digital solution can now also help the vaccination effort. This is possible by educating patients on the varieties of vaccines available, with all of the fine print. It will also be an important tool in the management of the vaccine’s distribution across the globe, doctors believe.
Healthcare systems in developed countries supported themselves on telehealth during the pandemic for obvious reasons. It was important to limit exposure for both healthcare workers and patients. A recent study by McKinsey revealed that medical doctors are seeing patients through virtual appointments up to 175 times more than before. Such is the success of the digital venture that it seems natural it should be used to support the COVID19 vaccination drive.
U.S. physician Peter Alperin, MD, recently wrote in Medical Economics: “Considering how reliant we’ve become on virtual visits as a clinical tool, I decided to chat with a few of my colleagues about how telehealth might support the vaccine rollout efforts. After all, getting vaccinated still requires a patient’s physical presence in the office. And with nearly 3 million doses of approved vaccines having already been shipped across the U.S., we’re now beginning one of the largest vaccination efforts in medical history. What I heard confirmed my hunch: telehealth will play a critical role in managing vaccine distribution and supporting patients through a simple, but a potentially scary process, for some.”
The healthcare practitioner believes there are five ways in which the rollout can effectively rely on telehealth for more effectiveness:
1. Patient concerns: In the U.S. alone, 70% of the population will need to be vaccinated if herd immunity is to be achieved. This is the same for most of the world. However, in America, only 47% people are willing to be vaccinated. The figure differs in different parts of the world. In India, for example, “In December 2019, more than 84% of Indians thought that “vaccines are effective,” the highest share among 149 nations surveyed in a vaccine confidence study published by ‘The Lancet’ journal. Also, 82% of Indians thought that “vaccines are safe,” the sixth-highest share” an article in The Hindu (December 2020) suggests.
The role of telehealth will be to educate patients through one-on-one video consultations with their medical practitioners. Other mass communication strategies can be more effectively achieved through information obtained from a health app than it would be via social media viral content. Boosting patient confidence and trust in vaccination is therefore more easily achievable in a shorter period of time.
2. High-risk patients: High-risk patients are often told they cannot be inoculated with live-virus vaccines. Doctors can intervene in situations where specific advice is needed to address the patient’s particular case. The convenience and rapidity of telemedicine cannot be highlighted enough in the precise instances where such doctor-patient exchanges may be a question of life or death.
3. Expecting mothers: Pregnant women are among those most at risk from COVID19. Not only can they be affected, but also their unborn children. Therefore, expecting mothers or women planning on getting pregnant need to understand all that is involved in getting vaccinated against COVID19. All of their queries, concerns which add to the already long list of gestational apprehensions can be easily address via a telehealth consultation. Moreover, they would have access to more trusted sources of information or literature regarding the same.
4. Patient aftercare: Most of the available vaccines worldwide are being given in two batches. Patients are monitored in between the shots for reactions or other symptoms they may experience. Even though these have been less frequent, having instant access to a physician once they receive the initial inoculation can help reassure the patient. FDA data suggests that 10-12% of those who receive the vaccines will experience reactions such as headaches, fatigue and chills. With telemedicine, doctors can evaluate the seriousness of these symptoms and take a call on the required follow-up and care.
5. Compliance: This can be achieved through patient education. As doctors communicate more readily with their patients through telehealth apps, compliance and improved medical outcomes are more likely. Moreover, the data received through the apps can even help towards more efficiency in the logisitics of the vaccination drive.