In the past several years, telemedicine and telehealth have become increasingly relied upon in patient care and the distribution of health information. More hospitals and health care providers are looking to both telehealth and telemedicine as a way to reach patients like never before.
Now, in light of COVID-19, this access has become even more important.On the latest “Fiber for Breakfast” live video series, Fiber Broadband Association President and CEO Lisa R. Youngers chatted with Dr. James Cates of Satellite Med and J. Wilson Cates III, co-founder and CEO of Intellectual Care, LLC., about the role telemedicine is playing in the pandemic, and how connectivity will be integral to its future.
“I see tremendous growth over the next three, six, twelve months,” said Dr. Cates, “But I also believe that connection to fiber is going to be the key—especially in a rural setting.”
While they sound interchangeable, telehealth and telemedicine actually mean two different things. Telehealth more broadly refers to health care education delivered through technology—something we see all the time. Telemedicine more specifically refers to the clinical practice of remote medicine using technology.
Doctors have been using telemedicine since the invention of the telephone, Wilson Cates said, but for the past 10 years, many started using capabilities like texting, video chat and email to help their patients remotely.
Companies like Intellectual Care, LLC, have stepped in to help health care providers set up their telemedicine programs. Wilson Cates said his company has created a digital product that allows patients and doctors to connect on a secure platform. Patients fill out intake forms before their meeting with a doctor, which are sent to the physician via a secure platform. From there they can meet one-on-one via video chat to discuss the issues at hand. Depending on the diagnosis, patients are either referred elsewhere for further care or given a course of treatment.
Currently Wilson Cates works with Dr. Cates in Tennessee at Satellite Med, an urgent care and family practice clinic in Cookeville, Tenn. Wilson Cates was working at the clinic when he realized some simple technological practices could save the clinic a lot of time. He also realized some patients didn’t even really need to be physically present to get an accurate diagnosis on common ailments.
“Since we’ve started this service—and we started it small with local populations—we’ve seen a 98.4% efficacy rate, meaning our patients that get a diagnosis on our platform don’t come back in with the same problem,” Wilson Cates said.
They put the localized telemedicine model in a few physical locations as well, including factories with large work populations and schools around Putnam County, Tenn., where Satellite Med is located. Dr. Cates said he’s seen really amazing success stories come out of this telemedicine model—including one that saved a woman’s life.
A few years ago, the school system in Putnam County had to temporarily shutdown due to an illness outbreak. Only three schools were unaffected—all of which had telemedicine centers connected with Satellite Med in them. Students were diagnosed earlier, meaning they were taken out of school faster and unable to infect their healthy classmates.
“By having diagnostic testing onsite and having a telemedicine access portal, the teachers that would get sick or the kids that would get sick were swabbed right away,” said Wilson Cates. “As a result, we were able to create well populations.”
While telemedicine already exists in some areas and for some providers, Dr. Cates said he believes COVID-19 is going to jumpstart its availability everywhere. He said local, family doctors are especially seeing the benefits. While many talk about telemedicine in terms of gaining access to experts otherwise unavailable in certain areas, COVID-19 is proving there’s value in being able to see your regular doctor from the comfort of your own home.
“People need access to their family doctor,” Dr. Cates said. “And if there were more doctors locally that had faster internet who were able to deliver safe medical care to their own population, I think they would do it.”
Both Wilson Cates and Dr. Cates acknowledged their telemedicine program only works as well as it does due to the widespread availability of fiber in the community. Satellite Med was outfitted with fiber in 2012, and the jump from 6 mbps to 1,000 mbps greatly enhanced their ability to see telemedicine patients.
Dr. Cates himself has fiber internet in his home. Despite living 38 miles from his clinic, he’s able to check in on patients when he’s unable to travel. He said as a doctor serving rural communities, it’s been vital in how he provides care.
“I push for fiber everywhere,” he said. “I’m in a rural setting, and otherwise would have no access to my patients or health care if it wasn’t for fiber. COVID-19 has identified how important it is going forward for these rural communities. They’re going to be healthier with fiber in their communities.”
Join us for the next Fiber for Breakfast live video at 10 a.m. on April 29. The topic: New Market Research is in – Broadband in the Pandemic.