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The good, the bad, and the burnout of Telemedicine in Colorado

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) - One unexpected aspect of the coronavirus pandemic is how it has driven a lot of innovation, including a vast expansion of virtual doctor visits, sometimes called "telemedicine" or "Telehealth."

Two years later, that segment of healthcare is still a bit of a work in progress. 

“There was an absolute radical shift in telehealth adoption in March of 2020," said Dr. Chris Davis, Medical Director of Virtual Health at UCHealth. "We had 1,000 percent growth in our virtual urgent care and close to three or 4,000 percent growth in telehealth in our ambulatory clinics."

But now, the explosive growth of an important tool is adding to the burnout being felt throughout the medical industry. While patients have more access to doctors by logging on rather than sitting in waiting rooms, there are not enough healthcare workers available to help them.

"I can tell you that there is overwhelming demand in our Virtual Urgent Care right now," said Dr. Davis. "I mean, that's absolutely the case. We simply don't have enough people. We just can't meet the demand, and we're booking out appointments too far for my comfort level. But that's just sort of the reality that we're in right now”

While telemedicine adds work for some physicians, it also alleviates stress on hospitals and patients by keeping people with less serious issues out of emergency rooms and clinics.

“Being able to use the Virtual Urgent Care to help triage and basically do air traffic control to get the patient to the right place at the right time, that's a service, and we're happy to do that," said Dr. Davis.

Telemedicine was thrust into the spotlight because of the pandemic, and doctors say virtual health is here to stay. Like many industries, healthcare is realizing that having online options is essential.

"I think what we've shown is that there's a different and sometimes better way of doing business that is frankly, more provider and patient-centric," said Dr. Davis. "So if we can take the good, once we have some breathing room, and really build that into healthcare culture, that'll be something to be proud of.”

Dr. Davis says he expects telehealth to advance over the next few years with more virtual video appointments, and remote patient monitoring. With remote monitoring, the patient is able to wear a device that transmits health information right to their primary care doctor so they can keep an eye on medical issues.

Another development of telemedicine will likely be more access to health data. Davis says patients will continue to gain more ways to keep track of their own healthcare data, typically right on their smartphones.

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Mallory Anderson

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