In summary

Lawmakers need to recognize the benefits of digital technologies – from advanced telehealth platforms to everyday services for patients.

By Danielle Hicks, Special to CalMatters

Danielle Hicks is chief patient officer at the GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer, a nonprofit based in  San Carlos, dhicks@go2foundation.org.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, meeting patients where they are has never been more important. 

While hospitalization rates in California have lowered in recent weeks, many patients continue to forgo in-person medical care – and the pre-pandemic reality that a significant number of patients struggle to reach medical care in-person remains. Thankfully, telehealth and the embrace of digital technology in the health care space has made providers more accessible than ever before.

At its core, telehealth is about connecting patient with provider regardless of the circumstances. Beginning with phone conversations – audio and visual – and primarily used in rural communities, telehealth has since become an integral part of health care systems across the geographical spectrum, allowing communities a chance to receive quality medical care without making the sometimes-long trek to a care center.

With the medical community’s expanded understanding of the role that technology can and should play has come a series of breakthroughs and improvements to patient care that have made quality care more accessible than ever before, all enabled by ever-improving and increasingly accessible technologies.

The concept of telehealth has adopted a two-pronged approach – “synchronous communication” or virtual consultations between patient and provider that provide real-time insights, and “asynchronous communication,” a more complex system of regular diagnostic monitoring that alerts physicians of a need to directly consult a patient when issues arise. Both demonstrate the considerable role that technology has played in improving the accessibility of medical care and, in turn, saving lives.  

Today, thanks to recent guidance for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, providers can use particularly accessible applications such as FaceTime, Google Hangouts and Skype to consult with their patients. As more and more Americans have leaned on these tools to communicate with loved ones throughout the pandemic, the familiarity and ease of access has broken down barriers between patient and provider even further.

At GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer, the patient comes first and we know that meeting patients, advocates and survivors where they are has never been more important. In addition to whole-heartedly embracing telehealth as a beneficial practice for patients and their families, GO2 Foundation has also adopted a multitude of digital tools at an organizational level to continue raising awareness and educating communities.

When the pandemic hit, we quickly pivoted to providing online COVID-19 updates, resources and guidance to patients in the lung cancer community. Our “Lung Cancer Living Room” series, ordinarily an in-person monthly forum featuring lung cancer specialists, physicians and researchers in conversation with patients and advocates, was transformed into a virtual discussion enabling us to reach members of the community at home. 

Broadcast on Facebook Live and YouTube, the “Living Room” helped us stay connected with patients and deliver important information on how to manage lung cancer diagnoses during COVID-19. And while the ongoing fight for a cure continues, we are proud to advance and improve the treatment process – including and especially those enabled by digital technology.

While the discussion surrounding technology among our lawmakers has certainly become more controversial over the past year, I would encourage every leader in an elected position to recognize the life-saving benefits of embracing digital technologies – from advanced telehealth platforms to everyday services that patients and providers use to stay connected. These unprecedented times require flexible thinking, and of course, an understanding of the value of technology in delivering positive patient outcomes.

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