Emergency departments should be a last-stop medical option, but for people with disabilities, who visit EDs at a disproportionate rate compared with those without disabilities, this last stop becomes more commonplace.
Virtual care has inherent advantages that help prevent excess visits to the ED for all populations, including people with disabilities.
Catching medical problems earlier on is vital to cut the flow of people into EDs. Offering individuals with disabilities quality care from their homes can help prevent avoidable visits.
Ophir Lotan, vice president of product and customer success at telemedicine technology vendor TytoCare, believes virtual care needs to provide comprehensive diagnostic exams and focus on a simplistic overall user design to achieve a reduction in ED visits for populations with specific considerations, such as people with disabilities.
Q. What is at the heart of the problem with people with disabilities visiting the emergency room at disproportionate rates?
A. People with disabilities often are faced with higher rates of chronic conditions and experience a higher rate of financial difficulty covering the costs of care, compared with the non-disabled population. They are less likely to afford healthcare and more likely to have unmet healthcare needs.
This combination of complications, from increased care needs and a lack of means to cover healthcare costs, has led to a lower proportion of people with disabilities receiving annual routine checkups and preventative care that is essential to diverting ED visits.
Q. How can telehealth help keep people with disabilities out of emergency rooms?
A. Virtual care can support people with chronic care conditions by reducing the barriers of access that prevent them from going to a physical doctor’s office, especially when they need highly regular checkups.
By utilizing virtual care visits, people with disabilities can have their chronic care conditions regularly checked, preventing ED visits later. Regular checkups can divert patients’ conditions from getting to a critical state, but only virtual care can go the extra mile to bring down additional barriers like transportation, scheduling and long waiting periods for medical appointments.
To a non-disabled person, these obstacles can be frustrating and time consuming. For someone with special needs, these added challenges can prove to be insurmountable. Telehealth irons out the process of these preventative checkups, empowering and enabling individuals to attend these critical appointments, without the added burden of leaving home.
Q. You suggest that comprehensive diagnostic exams via telemedicine are key to helping people with disabilities. Why?
A. Remote physical exams take virtual care to the next level by going beyond basic audio and video visits. Providing doctors with reliable patient data and information from a comprehensive set of exams is critical in providing accurate insights into the patient’s condition, allowing for more accurate clinical decision-making.
For example, the ability to accurately examine patients’ throats, lungs and hearts from a distance could be potentially lifesaving, specifically for those with physical mobility challenges that may impede their ability to leave their home easily.
The added capability to provide doctors with accurate medical information, that they previously were unable to obtain from the comfort of home, is a game-changer for this population, caregivers and medical staff alike.
Now, doctors will have access to a more complete understanding of the patient’s overall wellbeing, backed by accurate diagnostic exam data, enabling equitable and quality care.
Q. What should healthcare provider organization CIOs and other health IT leaders be doing today to help people with disabilities in their communities?
A. Providers should be focusing on ways to increase their patients’ access to high-quality virtual care with solutions that have actual exam capabilities.
For many with disabilities, virtual visits that only utilize audio and visual capabilities are not sufficient, especially if they have a specific disability that affects their speech, hearing, mobility or sight. CIOs and health IT leaders should not and must not compromise on the quality of care that is performed remotely.
We must meet individuals with disabilities where they are, designing inclusive solutions with accessibility features and assistance to the patient, rather than expecting people with disabilities to conform to the status quo.