Caitlin Clement|9/28/2023|4 min read

Telehealth Can Augment Patient Care During Natural Disasters

Virtual care can offer faster, more efficient crisis management

female and male emergency medical responder loading patient into ambulance while female provider inputs patient data into her iPad

We all know the role telehealth played during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing patients to seek needed medical care without having to leave their home and risk exposure. It was the spark that ignited the telehealth boom and revolutionized healthcare forever. 

Nowadays when people think of telemedicine, they often think of the impact it has on the day-to-day operations of hospitals and clinics. However, its ability to be a crucial tool in times of crisis and natural disasters has persisted. The same value we see in day-to-day virtual care, like quicker visits, medication management and nationwide access to providers are all crucial to faster disaster response. 

During a natural disaster, like the recent hurricane Idalia, entire communities can be left in rubble. This includes local hospitals, pharmacies and clinics that are either destroyed, damaged or tasked with treating emergency-only cases—leaving many without proper ongoing medical care. 

What if a patient recently underwent surgery and needs updated care advice? Or those who suffer from chronic conditions and require frequent attention—what are they to do? Perhaps someone suffers from a minor rash due to irritants in the flood waters—how can they get the medication they need fast?

In this blog, we’ll cover a few of the ways telehealth can not only help, but be important to the relief efforts during natural disasters. 

Treating and monitoring evacuated patients

In the most recent hurricane to hit Florida, hundreds of thousands were forced to evacuate. In 2017, the California wildfires were a different element but the same result—mass evacuation. As natural disasters become more prevalent, we’ll see more large-scale evacuations of communities, towns and cities.

Telemedicine’s ability to offer care regardless of geographic location makes it essential to treating and monitoring evacuated patients. The clinics and hospitals located in re-location areas can quickly become overwhelmed and burdened by the sudden increase in evacuees. 

Virtual care visits allow patients to be seen and triaged sooner than if they were to wait for a spot at a local facility. Medical professionals can assess injuries or illnesses remotely, helping prioritize resources and medical teams effectively. Non-emergency patients are then able to receive new prescriptions for medications that were lost or left behind, care instructions for any minor wound or injury to prevent infection and physicians can continue to monitor their chronic illnesses. 

Mental health support

Natural disasters can be devastating for individuals, families and communities alike. Entire towns, livelihoods and loved ones, lost in mere moments, can inflict psychological trauma. From depression to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), victims of natural disasters can feel the mental effects for years, even decades, after. 

By providing easy, convenient access to mental health professionals regardless of where they’re located, telepsychiatry can help patients process the event sooner. By equipping patients with the right tools, treatment and coping mechanisms earlier, we can potentially reduce the long-term mental impact they’ll experience. 

With local mental health professionals likely being overwhelmed and perhaps less accessible, telehealth can tap into experienced providers across the U.S.

Improving natural disaster response efforts

In a disaster situation, a fast reaction time is crucial. The first 72-hours are the most important during the search-and-rescue phase of disaster relief. It’s within this timeframe that those who are critically injured will see the highest rates of survival when given lifesaving medical triage. In fact, even after the first 24 hours, we can see survival percentages drop significantly.

It’s important that those who require emergency medical attention get it, but that can be hard when you have a limited number of physicians on the ground, an overwhelmed facility and sparse resources.

Weaving telehealth into your natural disaster plan can allow the on-site healthcare staff to focus on emergency-only cases. While the in-person staff are tending to critical patients, those with mild injuries or medical needs can consult with a telemedicine provider to offer treatment advice and prescribe necessary medication. Leaving beds open for more critically injured patients and allocating the already limited medical resources for those who need it the most. 

Stronger data collection and analytics

Imagine a situation where a hurricane has struck a coastal area, like hurricane Idalia, causing widespread damage and medical emergencies. In such scenarios, telehealth plays a crucial role in gathering and utilizing essential data for efficient disaster response. 

For example, digital health platforms enable healthcare providers to remotely assess and document patient information in real-time. By conducting virtual consultations, medical professionals can record vital health data, symptoms and treatment plans directly into electronic health records (EHRs). This immediate data entry streamlines information collection, eliminating the need for paper records that might get lost or damaged in the chaos of a disaster.

Telehealth tools can also support epidemiological surveillance. When healthcare providers input patient data into centralized databases, public health agencies can swiftly analyze trends and detect potential disease outbreaks. This real-time information allows authorities to allocate resources more effectively, responding to emerging health threats promptly.

In essence, telehealth acts as a reliable and efficient data pipeline during natural disasters. It empowers healthcare professionals and public health agencies to gather, analyze and act on vital health information swiftly, ensuring that resources are allocated where they are most needed and enhancing the overall effectiveness of disaster response efforts.

Powering reliable telehealth visits with our network of certified clinicians 

Preparation is key to saving more lives when a natural disaster, like the recent wildfires and hurricanes, occur. Telehealth can be an excellent tool in your crisis response planning kit that can help field patients, track health data and leave beds open for more critical cases.

From patients with pre-existing chronic conditions to those who experienced minor injuries, you’re not limited to in-person providers for care. Virtual providers, as long as they are licensed in the state where the patients need treatment, can easily provide quality care from anywhere across the U.S.

OpenLoop’s own network of nationwide, multi-state licensed providers makes it easier for our clients to see a larger population of patients without sacrificing quality of care. Our NCQA accredited, 6500+ clinician network spans 30+ specialties, speaks 15+ languages and is pre-vetted by our expert credentialing team to ensure the highest level of compliance and safety for your patients.

Interested in what we can do for your organization? Get in touch here!

Our full suite of white-labeled Telehealth Support Services include: