Pediatric health care workers are fearing the tripledemic. The RSV surge alone is overwhelming pediatric hospitals, according to the Advisory Board. While today COVID seems to mostly be a retrospective, it still is a real threat. And the flu season is just beginning. Does that mean we are returning to pandemic-like conditions this winter?
Children’s hospitals especially are being hit by an onslaught of RSV and related cases, imploring parents and guardians to first seek help from their pediatrician if their case is non-emergent. ABC News reported that pediatric hospital beds are now filled at the highest rate (78 percent) in two years. Hospitals in Arizona, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Kentucky and Texas continue to experience more than 90 percent occupancy.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issuing a warning that “co-circulation of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza viruses, SARS-CoV-2 and others could place even more stress on healthcare systems this fall and winter,” noting their concern especially with children who lack immunity based upon the years of societal cloistering to avoid COVID.
Why Remote Second Opinions at a Time Like This?
The pandemic pressured every industry to re-think whether existing processes were safe, focusing on whether they might work just as well, if not better, remotely. Both organizations and patients who prior to the pandemic had not even considered providing or consuming medical services online, quickly changed their approach.
Today, as waves of contagious diseases, like RSV, threaten our children and test our systems, some hospitals are better prepared. They’ve established processes and programs to separate uninfected patients and non-emergent cases, reducing the spread of infection. Some are leveraging digital platforms to run online programs delivering services that used to only be available in person. Hospitals can now have their specialists consult with the patient, family, and the local physician to provide their expertise remotely. Some of these online portals enable the remote collection and sharing of medical records, scans and test results. Everyone involved can access, communicate, provide and receive expertise remotely, from virtually any location whenever it is needed without risking new infection.
Remote second opinion programs specifically, were initially designed to provide access to specialty care to those patients unable to conveniently visit the hospital in person. Some have now been expanded to allow access for any patients, including those in their local geography, who would prefer not to put themselves at risk of infection from these now ubiquitous diseases. This process ensures patients in need continue to get their required care while doing its part to preserve patient health. Secondarily, by avoiding the hospital facility at this critical time, it serves to relieve stress on an already overtaxed physical premises.
Remote second opinions can now play the additional role of enabling specialists in these facilities to make informed decisions about which patients need in-person care. It also saves the patient and his or her family both the time and expense of travel and lodging. While some suggest that using this remote capability will slow down the urgent care that may be needed, it turns out the opposite is often true. Physicians and their associated care teams can prepare in advance and ensure the right treatment and specialists are available for the patient and their families prior to their arrival, removing many of the delays associated with patient check ins or even emergency room arrivals.
Similar to battlefield triage, separating critical cases from non-critical, enables care teams to focus on the most urgent cases without being distracted. Physical facilities can avoid the stress of overcrowded waiting rooms by lightening the load when some cases are being served virtually. This planned approach allows hospitals to use their scarce resources most efficiently.
Of course, the original intent for remote second opinion systems was to open access to a hospital’s specialty care for patients who are not be local or for whom travel is convenient. Remote second opinion programs expand the hospital’s brand well beyond their physical region. Hospitals who worked to implement these solutions earlier are realizing the benefits now. Those who haven’t, may find now to be exactly the right time to put one in place.
Watch Reaching Further With Digital Strategies:
How Some Top U.S. Children's Hospitals are Leading the Way