El Paso hospitals and physicians, looking for a delicate balance between social distancing, patient care and maintaining their personal protective equipment supply, are tapping into the power of telemedicine during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Nationally, according to analysts at Forrester Research, telemedicine or virtual health-care visits are on pace to pass 1 billion by the end of 2020.

“Telemedicine is proving that this is helping to reduce the use of PPE, which is in such shortage,” Dr. Diego De La Mora, chief health informatics officer at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso, said. “We have to establish whether or not to triage a patient. A person may say they have symptoms that compare to COVID-19 and they don’t know whether or not to come in. I’m able to take their medical history and observe whether to bring them into the hospital. Telemedicine allows us to find the best path for a patient.”

Making long-distance patient care easier

Las Cruces-based Electronic Caregiver has been using what they call telemonitoring equipment, such as its Pro Health Infectious Disease Intercession Protocol and “Addison, the Virtual Caregiver,” to help companies monitor their employees’ health and physicians do their work while maintaining social distancing. 

Pro Health also helps patients keep track of their own health as the equipment alerts their physicians through sensors when a sudden change in temperature, breathing or other symptoms occur.

“Right now, we have multiple clients using this on their customers and employees,” Tim Washburn, chief clinical officer at Electronic Caregiver, said. “People who are working in different locations are monitoring anyone with COVID-19.”

“Now if a patient’s temperature goes to 101 degrees, then a doctor reaches out to the patient,” Washburn said. “You absolutely need this type of equipment during COVID-19.”

Quickly expanding use of telemedicine

Texas Tech had not been using telemedicine as much until COVID-19 hit the El Paso area, De La Mora said.

 “At Texas Tech, we’ve been interested in moving forward but there have been barriers,” he said. “The federal government has broken down those barriers, so we started moving toward using telemedicine around March 15-17.

“Before March 15, I was doing one telemedicine appointment per month or every three months. Since March 15, 90 percent of my appointments are done through telemedicine. Our Texas Tech team is using telemedicine now 50 percent of the time for their work.”

Cover photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force.

Joe Rutland is a freelance journalist who lives in El Paso. He's a former assistant city editor with The El Paso Times and has worked for newspapers in Texas and Arizona as a reporter, columnist, and copy...