The Advantages of Telemedicine
The Hurricane Florence telemedicine shelter project is an illustration of how necessity is the mother of invention. Hurricane Florence strained the medical system in Wake County, and the RelyMD telemedicine initiative provided a needed solution. Traditionally, having multiple shelters means requiring multiple medical providers, one for each facility. Through telemedicine, one provider was able to be efficiently deployed to all of the shelters simultaneously.
From a logistical standpoint, the service was deployed quickly, despite the need to go on-site to deliver the iPads, introduce the concept, and show the nurses how to perform the telemedicine visits. The program was up and running in the busiest shelter in less than eight hours.
In a resource-constrained environment, the right care was delivered. Of those patients who said they would have gone to the emergency department for their medical care, the data show that there was an 80 percent emergency department diversion rate. This resulted in significant savings with respect to overall cost and EMS worker hours (see Figure 1). Of the nine patients who were sent to the emergency department after initially being evaluated by RelyMD, three required admission to the hospital.
Beyond the Shelters
RelyMD recognized that there were people affected by Florence all across North Carolina, not only in the shelters. To help those populations, RelyMD offered a coupon code for a free patient-initiated telemedicine evaluation. Patients were able to obtain treatment using the RelyMD app or an internet-enabled computer. RelyMD was able to evaluate and manage more than 100 patients across North Carolina.
Unfortunately, devastating natural disasters will continue to affect the nation. In this case, telemedicine was a useful tool that helped manage patients quickly and in a high-quality manner. One provider was able to take care of patients across eight different shelters. At one point, there were more than 100 shelters set up for Hurricane Florence victims across North Carolina. Telemedicine has the capacity to take care of all of these patients with a fraction of the usual medical resources.
Dr. Park is the director of RelyMD, a North Carolina–based telemedicine company, and a partner at Wake Emergency Physicians. Ms. Raegen and Mr. Caflisch are executives at RelyMD. Dr. Granovsky is president of LogixHealth, a national coding and billing company.