Dr. Rania Saleh, an infectious disease specialist with Eagle Telemedicine, had not admitted any COVID-19 patients at the time of this writing. However, she is preparing alongside her onsite clinical teams at rural Wisconsin hospitals.
“My space is quiet right now,” she says. “My time is spent educating physicians and nurses, patients and patients’ families on proper infection control techniques. Frequent hand hygiene. Not touching the face. Washing hands before brushing teeth. Good common-sense measures to prevent contraction of any virus, including COVID-19.”
A level of confidence
The advantage of having a Tele-ID program, she finds, is that the medical staff is already well attuned to infection control best practices, so—even with the unknowns about the severity and the number of Americans who will be affected by the pandemic—there is a level of confidence that many safeguards are already in place.
“We see patients with viruses regularly,” she says. “Flu is still going on and we know how to prevent its transmission. By the same token, we know coronavirus is a new strain and very strong, and so we are being extra diligent in our infection control techniques.”
“If we suspect the coronavirus, we are prepared with special isolation units and routine contact isolation kits for clinical staff—a gown and gloves. Also, a mask with a clear shield that covers the eyes to protect from exposure to moisture droplets should the patient cough or sneeze.” The masks are important, as moisture droplets spread from person to person are suspected as a prime way of contracting the COVID-19 virus. Hospital staff perform strict regimes following CDC protocol to disinfect the telemedicine cart after each use as well.
Dr. Saleh says that testing kits for the coronavirus are available to the hospitals she serves but must be ordered by the patient’s physician to be used. It’s a 24-hour turnaround for the results while the patient remains in isolation.
She also provides Tele-ID services to a Joliet, Illinois, nursing home with slightly different practices from the hospitals. Though they also haven’t had any COVID-19 cases at the time of this writing, they have greater safety precautions in place because their patients are in the higher risk category. Doctors and nurses are screened before entering the facility. The number of visitors is limited to just family members of the patients who are extremely ill or actively dying.
Infectious diseases are a perfect match for telemedicine
“As the numbers of patients stricken by the COVID-19 virus increases, it’s a good time to remember the benefits of Tele-ID treatment,” says Dr. Saleh.
Working in “socially distanced” environments is routine practice for telemedicine physicians. “Telemedicine is more efficient because we are treating infected patient remotely,” she says.
Other Benefits of Tele-ID Programs
High resolution video and physicians trained in “webside manner” deliver high quality care equivalent to physicians at bedside.
Hospitals facing larger patient volumes can diagnose and treat patients well above the hospital’s onsite capacity.
When the hospital lacks ICU and Pulmonary/Critical Care physicians, or if local physicians can’t practice because they are ill, telemedicine can fill staffing gaps.
A source of expertise
Dr. Saleh says that physicians working at the hospitals often consult with her when they have patients with infections. Sometimes it’s just a matter of wanting confirmation on their decisions regarding antibiotic treatments and amounts.
In these challenging times, hospitals have peace of mind, too. “They no longer have any issues with local specialists being too busy to respond in a timely fashion. They have come to trust us and the work we do. They also trust we will be there as their challenges with COVID-19 increase.”