Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of patients utilizing telehealth solutions has increased significantly. But with telehealth set to remain a mainstay of healthcare going forward, it begs the questions of what are the pros and cons of telehealth? We’ve listed some of each below to help you make an informed decision. Advantages of telehealth for patients: - Patients can typically get an appointment sooner - Appointments are carried out in the safety of a patient’s home or workplace — saving time and money on gas and parking - Telehealth allows elderly patients and those with reduced mobility, as well as people in rural locations, continued access healthcare services - Telehealth services are designed to be easy to adopt - Recent Medicare rule changes in the United States mean that people in more states are covered and can take advantage of telehealth services as part of their health plans - Telehealth services can often be used via a smartphone - A great way to satisfy post-surgical follow-ups Advantages of telehealth for healthcare providers: - More free time to help the neediest patients - Less overcrowding in doctor’s practices - Easier to implement social distancing guidelines Disadvantages of telehealth: - Not suitable for emergency situations (although tele-ICUs are a thing) - Not suitable for when a clinician needs to physically interact with a patient - Unsuitable for routine vaccinations - Not as intimate as a traditional face-to-face appointment If you’d like to find out more about the telehealth services provided by France Surgery, please get in touch.
The United States Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has released new data that shows usage of telehealth services has jumped significantly over the past year. According to the figures, more than 34.5 million services were delivered via telehealth in Medicare and in the Children's Health Insurance Program from March through June. This represents an increase of a whopping 2,532% in services delivered via telehealth compared to March through June 2019. Furthermore, the agency also notes that there is always a "claims lag" between the time a service occurs and when the claim is reflected in its database. Taking this into account, the actual number of services delivered via telehealth is likely to be higher than reported. The CMS data reflects the relaxation of federal regulations around virtual care at the start of the pandemic, which caused usage of telehealth services to skyrocket. Speaking about the figures, CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement: "This revolutionary method of improving access to care is transforming healthcare delivery in America." [Related reading: Telehealth in the ER affords better outcomes for both patients and healthcare providers – research]
We’ve written before about how telehealth has come into its own during the Covid-19 pandemic. Adoption of telehealth has allowed patients with less serious ailments to remain at home and seek advice remotely, freeing up clinicians’ precious time to focus on individuals with more pressing healthcare needs. Now, new research shows that when utilized in an ER setting, telehealth solutions can yield positive results for both patients and providers. According to the research published in the INFORMS journal Information Systems Research, which looked at emergency room visits in New York from 2010 to 2014, increasing wider use of telehealth in the emergency room can reduce both wait times and patient length of stay. When it came to patient length of stay, telehealth had a positive impact because it allowed for more flexible resource allocation, particularly when there is an ER demand surge and/or supply shortage. Furthermore, adoption of telehealth in ERs also reduces patient wait time, a reality that in turn reduces length of stay. This is a particularly important factor because of the common and nagging problem of overcrowding in ERs. With social distancing guidelines still firmly in place, reducing overcrowding in emergency rooms needs to be a top priority for hospitals.
The US is entering its annual cold and flu season, but this year there’s the added danger of Covid-19 to contend with. Healthcare providers often struggle to meet the needs of their patients at this time of year, mainly because of increased footfall at their facilities. Add to this the strict social distancing guidelines that are in place across the world and the difficulty of the situation becomes clear. The good news is that more and more care providers are turning to telehealth solutions to help alleviate the flu season rush, as well as adhere to social distancing rules. With telehealth, doctors and physicians can carry out consultations with patients without either having to travel. When diagnosing a patient with the flu, physicians look for the two most common symptoms: a cough and fever. At the height of the flu season, almost every patient presenting with these symptoms will have the flu, which often means an in-person consultation is not necessary in the first instance. Care providers can quickly assess a patient’s symptoms via a virtual consultation and arrange to have a prescription sent to them, saving time and money. While every patient’s case is unique, the ability of telehealth to enable physicians to carry out initial consultations for individuals with flu-like symptoms remotely means the facility’s resources are not impacted. This frees up vital appointment slots for those who need them most and reduces wait times, all the while eliminating the chances of someone contracting Covid-19 or spreading flu while out of their house. If you’d like to find out more about the telehealth services provided by France Surgery, please get in touch.
Cleveland Clinic has unveiled its top 10 medical innovations for 2021, and both telemedicine initiatives and app-connected health trackers feature. In fact, four medtech developments made the Cleveland Clinic list this year, underlining the importance of technology in healthcare. All of them were chosen in the belief they will be widely adopted in the coming year and have a significant clinical impact. Announced in conjunction with its annual Medical Innovation Summit, which is now in its 18th year, Cleveland Clinic’s top 10 innovations for this year were selected by a committee of subject matter experts at the academic medical center. This year, smartphone app-connected pacemakers were named the top medtech innovation because of their ability to better connect patients with their cardiac treatment, affording greater insights into the health data they produce. Bubble CPAP, a non-invasive ventilation strategy for premature babies, is the next medtech innovation on the Cleveland list. Bubble CPAP minimizes physical trauma and stimulates lung growth when administered over a prolonged period. Third on the list of medtech innovations is telemedicine, specifically increased access to these pivotal services through the removal of barriers. The fourth and final medtech innovation on the list is vacuum-induced uterine tamponade, a minimally invasive way for clinicians to stop postpartum hemorrhage (excessive bleeding after having a baby), which affects around one to five percent of women who give birth. The vacuum-induced device uses negative pressure created inside the uterus to collapse the bleeding cavity causing the muscle to close off the vessels. It’s a low-tech solution that could be taken advantage of in developing countries with low resource availability. [Related reading: What is telehealth?]
The American Society of Anesthesiologists has heard at its annual Anesthesiology 2020 meeting that telehealth technology has been affording positive experiences for patients. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, patients who saw a pain medicine specialist via telehealth saved time and money and were highly satisfied with their experience, according to a study presented at the virtual event. Conducted from August 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020, the study highlights how many chronic pain patients are confident they will receive good care via telehealth, while at the same time benefiting from avoiding lengthy commutes and less time spent in traffic. The results bolster the case for provider adoption of telehealth technology, which has already seen a significant rise in usage as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and patients being cautious about traveling to healthcare facilities for appointments for fear of contracting the virus. [Related reading: Older patients use telehealth almost as much as younger ones, report finds] While patients who are being evaluated for new conditions will likely be better served by an initial face-to-face consultation, follow-ups can occur efficiently once the relationship with the provider has been established. Indeed, the anesthesiologists at the conference predict up to 50% of visits could be conducted remotely.
We’ve written before about how telehealth has come into its own during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has driven the adoption of telehealth services, and it’s not just younger patients that have been taking advantage, according to a new report. Contrary to popular belief, older patients have also been embracing telehealth services, as shown in a recent report by Strata Decision Technology. Based on data collected from 43 health systems, as well as telehealth visit data from the American Medical Association and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the report shows that while telehealth visit utilization was highest for the 30–39 age cohort (27.95%), individuals in their 70s (22.52%), 80s (20.29%), and even 90s (19.04%) have been utilizing telehealth offerings. Jeffrey Gelblum, MD, a practicing neurologist at First Choice Neurology in Aventura, Florida, says telehealth is enabling older patients to access healthcare services they may otherwise have missed out on. “Historically, we had to deal with older folks who may not be able to drive and older folks who would have difficulty finding a parking space. If the weather was bad, some older folks did not want to go to a doctor appointment. Driving for older folks is problematic in terms of compliance. But now with telehealth, that situation has been resolved,” he says. Telehealth also allows older patients to see their physicians more often than if they were having to attend face-to-face appointments.
The switch to telehealth that many doctors and patients have had to make as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has been largely positive, new research shows. Furthermore, the majority say some of the changes will be permanent going forward. According to the survey of 500 executives in the healthcare industry, conducted by marketing agency Boston Digital, 57% of respondents said telehealth had increased the quality of patient care. In fact, more than half of those surveyed said their organisation had created new portals or micro-sites in response to the pandemic. Only 8% of respondents said telehealth initiatives were not important to their organisation. Most survey respondents said more than 40% of the changes they had made in the face of the coronavirus pandemic would likely remain permanent. However, the findings of the survey, while positive on the whole, do highlight some challenges that the telehealth industry must overcome. The most prominent challenge, the survey found, was patients’ ability to use new technologies. Speaking to Healthcare IT News, Peter Prodromou, president at Boston Digital, said: “To overcome barriers, including a patient’s ability to understand new programs and associated technology, healthcare providers must implement a seamless user experience and a robust digital marketing strategy that effectively communicates to their diverse patient community.”
Telehealth has helped patients living with chronic conditions, such as type 1 diabetes, continue their care management throughout the pandemic, new research shows. According to the global survey of patients living with type 1 diabetes, many moved to telehealth because in-person doctor visits were curtailed as a result of COVID lockdown restrictions. But even after the pandemic has passed, three-quarters say they will continue to take advantage of telehealth solutions to meet their care management needs. The information, presented this week at the Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD), highlights the value of telehealth platforms in maintaining care management during times of unprecedented disruption to daily life. Furthermore, many patients with chronic conditions will have foregone check-ups throughout the pandemic for fear of becoming infected or adding an extra burden to healthcare providers. Telehealth has a significant role to play hear by helping these individuals re-establish their care routines and get the treatment they require. The study conducted by researchers at the University of Bern in Switzerland and supported by Novo Nordisk, involving more than 7,000 people in 89 countries, is published in in the journal Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism. “The results … demonstrate that a large number of people living with type 1 diabetes have rapidly adopted telemedicine or plan to in the near future and that this has generally been perceived positively,” the researchers concluded in the study.
In a previous blog — What is telehealth?— we introduced you to telehealth and explained how it has revolutionized healthcare across the world, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. But while telehealth has proven itself as a very worthy asset for enabling rural communities and those who cannot easily travel to access healthcare, what about when a patient is in a more critical condition and requires intensive care? Well, believe it or not, there are actually telehealth-ICU solutions out there for this very purpose. In a nutshell, a tele-ICU enables remote clinicians to interact with bedside staff to consult on a patient’s care. One centralized care team can manage a large number of ICU locations across many different locations to exchange health information in real time. Using a host of technologies, including A/V conferencing and real-time data streams of patient information from multiple sensors and interfaces, a clinician working from a care center hundreds of miles away can effectively and rapidly care for a patient no matter what time of day or night it is. As highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, anything that minimizes infection risk and the need for PPE, while still allowing clinicians to care for patients is extremely advantageous. While a tele-ICU is a supplement, not a replacement, to the on-site care team, when remote and bedside teams are able to collaborate seamlessly, the partnership elevates bot care and outcomes.
Telehealth has gone from being a supplementary means of accessing healthcare services to one of the primary ways patients seek treatment, a new report has revealed. According to Doximity's 2020 State of Telemedicine Report, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has had a profound effect on telehealth, driving its adoption. In fact, the report says that telehealth is expected to account for more than 20% of all medical visits in the United States this year and drive $29 billion worth of healthcare services revenue. The Doximity report also found that as much as $106 billion of current US healthcare spend could be virtualized by 2023. This projection highlights the increasing acceptance and adoption of telehealth among both patients and physicians. The report says there is a likelihood that care providers will find themselves competing to offer the best telemedicine experience. Prior to the pandemic, just 14% of American patients had taken advantage of telehealth services. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, this figure has risen by 57%. For those with a chronic illness the increase was 77%. Nearly a quarter (23%) of respondents said they plan to use telehealth once the pandemic ends, while 27% said they feel more comfortable using telemedicine since the pandemic. You can read the full Doximity report here. [Related reading: Use of telehealth technology among US specialists increased during pandemic]
Silicon Valley tech giant Nvidia, best known for designing graphics processing units for the gaming and professional markets, is looking to use its experience to benefit the telehealth space. Researchers at the company are working on developing an automated speech recognition and natural language processing technology, which would be able to transcribe and organize information from a telemedicine visit for both patient and clinicians. What separates the tool from other offerings in the market is that it is specifically trained to understand clinical and biomedical language. Nvidia says the new tool will enable patients to leave telehealth visits with a lot more information and notes than they do currently. While the Nvidia tool’s initial focus will be telehealth transcription, the company says its uses could extend to other medical applications. Speaking about the tool, Hoo-Chang Shin, research scientist at NVIDIA, told MobiHealthNews: “This particular one was trained on large biomedical text and then a smaller set of clinical text ... but if we had a large amount of clinical notes like radiologist reports then the language processing trained on them would be kick-ass on recognizing radiologists reports. “It would be so much better at transcribing radiologist reports and also we have even more recognition of named entities or disease names, or possibly planned treatments, and so on.”
British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca’s large-scale human COVID-19 vaccine trial has been paused after one of the participants developed an unexplained illness. A spokesperson for AstraZeneca said the pause is “routine” and occurred when the firm’s standard review process was triggered. An independent committee will now review safety data pertaining to the trial. AstraZeneca stressed that an adverse reaction was only witnessed in one study participant, and that pausing trials was a common part of the vaccine development process. No details have been released about the nature of the participant’s illness, but it has been reported that the individual is expected to recover. Right now, all trials of the joint AstraZeneca-University of Oxford developed vaccine, AZD1222, have been halted worldwide, including in the United States, UK, Brazil, South Africa, and India. AZD1222 is one of three COVID-19 vaccines in late-stage Phase 3 trials in the United States. AstraZeneca and eight other drug makers have said they will not seek approval from US government regulators for any vaccine until all data showed it was safe and effective. All of the companies, which include Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co, GlaxoSmithKline, Novavax Inc, Sanofi and BioNTech, said “the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals” was their top priority.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has just released the Rural Action Plan, the first HHS-wide assessment of rural healthcare efforts in more than 18 years. The 82-page report comes after President Trump’s executive order in August to improve rural health and telehealth access. It lays out a four-point plan intended to address challenges providing rural healthcare, including building a sustainable HHS model for rural communities; preventing disease and mortality; increasing rural access to care; and using technology and innovation. The latter of these four initiatives includes wider support for telehealth, as well as funding for the development of technological solutions to help with chronic conditions. It also acknowledges that broadband access is a continuing concern for making use of health IT. Specifically, the report highlights a number of projects and directives designed to boost telehealth, including: - Grants, policy and regulatory efforts and research analyses will support rural tech and telehealth innovation initiatives. - A health challenge that uses technology to improve screening and management of postpartum depression for rural women. - HHS will provide more than $8 million in grant funding to boost telehealth expansion. - About $30 million to expand the use of telehealth services to meet the needs of rural and medically underserved areas. - Investment aimed at expanding eligibility to telehealth sites where the provider sees the patient at a distance more healthcare provider types.
Officials at the Ohio Department of Medicaid are seeking to make expanded telehealth coverage — which was put in place in March to address the coronavirus pandemic — permanent. When the coronavirus pandemic struck, telehealth options for more than three million people living in Ohio were expanded to help cover their healthcare needs. Prior to the expansion, Ohio’s telehealth services saw less than 1,000 claims from providers per month for physical health services, and 4,000 for mental health services. Since the pandemic hit in March, almost 630,000 members have used telehealth, resulting in around 2.6 million claims. Furthermore, more than 200,000 people have sought help via virtual care channels from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (MHAS), resulting in around 1.28 million claims. A further 1.3 million claims were filed by more than 480,000 Medicaid members using telehealth to access care from providers outside the MHAS network. Following this significant increase in telehealth usage in Ohio, the state’s Department of Medicaid has filed documents petitioning the state to add more healthcare providers to the list of those eligible to bill for telehealth services, expanding the program permanently. “This permanent expansion of clinically appropriate telehealth services allows us to increase access to quality care while maintaining the fiscal sustainability and integrity of Ohio’s Medicaid program,” said Ohio Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran in a statement.
With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide now at more than 25 million, any news involving potential vaccines is important, which is why a recent announcement from AstraZeneca Plc is exciting. The British multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company, which has its headquarters in Cambridge, England, says it has begun to enroll 30,000 participants aged above 18 in the United States for a large-scale human trial of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, AZD1222. The US trial will evaluate whether the vaccine can prevent COVID-19 infection or keep the illness from becoming severe, the National Institutes of Health said in a statement. It also will assess if the vaccine can reduce incidence of emergency department visits due to COVID-19. AstraZeneca says the study is being funded by the US Government and that participants will either receive two doses of either AZD1222 or a saline control (a placebo), four weeks apart. The AstraZeneca shot, which has been developed by researchers from the University of Oxford, is one of the farthest along of numerous COVID-19 vaccines in development. As well as the US trial, a final-stage test of the vaccine is underway in the United Kingdom. Preliminary results from this test could be yielded as soon as next month. Other companies that have COVID-19 vaccines in phase 3 trials include Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc.
Medical specialists, including cardiologists, gastroenterologists, pulmonologists, and respiratory physicians, significantly increased their use of telehealth technology during the COVID-19 pandemic, new research shows. According to the survey by data and analytics company GlobalData, 79% of US medical specialists said their use of telemedicine technology had increased since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. One in five (20%) said their usage had stayed the same. Of the medical professionals who said their use of telehealth services had increased, almost 30% reported an increase of 81% to 100%. Prior to the outbreak, less than half of the medical professionals surveyed were using telehealth services. But their experiences must have been positive, as more than three-quarters said they will continue to take advantage of telehealth once the pandemic is over. Interestingly, while 24% of medical professionals reported that they would not continue to use telehealth technology going forward, most said it was because they needed to see their patients in person to conduct examinations. Speaking about the findings of the survey, Kathryn Whitney, director of thematic analysis at GlobalData, said: “Telemedicine has been critical during the COVID-19 pandemic to limit the risk of person-to-person transmission of the virus and to reduce the burden on overwhelmed healthcare systems.”
Residents of Milam County, Texas, who saw the only two hospitals in their county close in 2018, will soon be able to take advantage of an unattended telehealth station. The $200,000 OnMed station is part of a $10 million grant from Blue Shield of Texas to A&M University to address the rural area's healthcare needs. With a large touchscreen, thermal camera, weight scale, stethoscope, and handheld camera, the telehealth station is capable of checking several aspects of a patient’s health. Furthermore, with a quick press of the touchscreen, patients are connected to a healthcare professional more than a thousand miles away, at the Tampa headquarters of OnMed. The professional, usually either a nursing assistant or nurse practitioner, is able to talk the patient through undertaking some basic checks, including blood pressure, respiratory readings, and blood oxygen saturation. There is even a dispensary attached to the booth which enables patients to get meds like common antibiotics, blood pressure, and diabetes medication instantly. At the end of each teleconsultation, an ultraviolet sanitizes all of the surfaces and equipment inside the booth ready for the next patient. Residents of Milam County will initially be able to use the telehealth station for two years, after which time a decision will be made on its future. Patients with or without insurance can take advantage of the telehealth station for as little as $45 to $65 per consultation. OnMed is also working with Auburn and Tuskegee with a view to placing stations in rural Alabama. CEO Austin White expects as many as 15 stations to be in operation across the country by the end of the year. *Main image credit: OnMed
A new survey from a healthcare cybersecurity firm has revealed that telehealth services are being widely accepted as the preferred alternative to face-to-face consultations. However, security remains a top concern. According to the research by CynergisTek, a leading cybersecurity firm in the healthcare space, more than 54% of patients have utilized telehealth services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of those people, 73% said they will continue using telehealth services even after the pandemic has subsided. However, the security of such systems is a top concern for many people, with 48% of the 5,000 adult respondents saying they would be unlikely to use virtual care again if their own protected health information was compromised due to a security breach. Interestingly, individuals from different generations view cybersecurity with varying importance. For example, so-called Baby Boomers (generally defined as people born from 1946 to 1964) and The Silent Generation (generally defined as people born from 1925 to 1942) were most likely to abandon telehealth services following a data breach, 62% and 65%, respectively. Nevertheless, most patients s believe that telehealth services can fill pandemic-era gaps for routine care, such as chronic care check-ups (29%) or annual physical and children's wellness exams (27%). Speaking about the findings of the research, Caleb Barlow, president and CEO of CynergisTek, said: “The rapid growth of telehealth has accelerated to a level we wouldn't have expected to see over a 10-year timeframe.”
Electronic health records, or online medical files as they are also known, are basically electronic versions of patients’ medical records that are securely stored in a bespoke system. While these digital records may never fully replace traditional paper-based versions, they are proving to add lots of value to the healthcare industry. Here are some of the benefits afforded by electronic health records for both patients and medical professionals alike: Electronic health records are accessible from anywhere, meaning any physician in the world can learn your medical history in a short space of time They are constantly up to date, with the latest version always available They make it faster to find information, thus allowing treatment to be expedited They contain fewer errors and there is less chance of misinterpretations because of poor handwriting They are secure from fire, theft or being lost and are also backed up for extra protection They can be accessed by multiple healthcare professionals, reducing the need for paper records to be sent All of the above ultimately improve efficiency, lead to fewer errors and lead to an improved experience for patients and medical professionals. As part of our holistic telemedicine solution, we offer online medical files. Contact us today to find out more about how they can transform your healthcare experience.
In a previous blog post — what is telehealth? — we wrote about telehealth services and some of the benefits they afford. Today, we are going to follow on from that post by looking at how telehealth has come into its own during the ongoing pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has meant that millions of people all over the world have had to stay at home, observe social distancing guidelines, and not make any unnecessary trips. But what do you do if you need medical advice or a check-up by your doctor in the middle of a pandemic, with such restrictions in place? Well, according to new research, many seniors are turning to telehealth services so they can keep abreast of their medical needs at this difficult time. In fact, the figures from healthinsurance.com show that overall use of telemedicine services among seniors has increased by a whopping 300% during the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, 30% of survey respondents said they have used telehealth services at least once a month since the COVID-19 crisis occurred. The beauty of telehealth services, such as virtual doctor appointments, is that they are all conducted via the Internet or telephone. Therefore, the patient does not even need to leave the comfort of their home to get a medical opinion — a reality that is particularly beneficial for vulnerable seniors. Want to find out more about the various telehealth services France Surgery provides? Contact us today. We’d love to hear from you.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, you will have likely heard about ‘telehealth’ and ‘telehealth services’. But what is telehealth and how can telehealth services benefit you? In a nutshell, telehealth is the term used to describe healthcare services provided remotely by video or telephone. So if you spoke with your doctor via the Internet using Skype or a similar tool, you would be taking advantage of telehealth services. Another example of telehealth could be if you used an online patient portal to send your healthcare professional some images or records. The goals of telehealth are numerous, but some of the primary desired outcomes include: To make healthcare accessible to people who live in rural or isolated communities To make healthcare accessible to people who have limited mobility, time or those who do not like venturing out of their houses To provide easier and faster access to medical professionals To help enforce social distancing requirements To allow individuals to self-manage their healthcare needs To enable more intuitive collaboration between healthcare professionals to afford better outcomes for patients Even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, we can expect telehealth services to remain a core part of healthcare going forward. If you’d like to find out more about the telehealth services provided by France Surgery, please get in touch.
The total cost in lost working time of UK employees travelling to appointments with their doctors last year was a staggering £1.5bn, new research reveals. According to a report published by health insurance firm AXA PPP Healthcare, online General Practitioner (GP) appointments could play a significant role in boosting efficiencies across both business and healthcare. The report, produced by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), suggests that if virtual appointments were used in the first instance, the number of face-to-face GP appointments conducted last year could have been reduced by 50m. In addition, virtual appointments eliminate the need for patients to travel, thus reducing their chances of being exposed to the novel coronavirus. Furthermore, they allow GPs to reduce their risk of exposure too. The CEBR report also highlights how online consultations, which can be more easily booked, amended, and cancelled, would help reduce the number of missed appointments. NHS Digital figures show that this is an issue, with one in 20 GP appointments recorded as ‘did not attend’ in 2019. By enabling patients to more easily manage appointments, online GP services could free up the equivalent of 60 years of GP consultation time per year. Whether the prevalence of virtual GP services continues to grow once the COVID-10 pandemic is over remains to be seen. What is certain is that they are playing a vital role as the crisis continues.
A new 90-minute test that can distinguish if someone has COVID-19 or another seasonal illness will be highly beneficial come the flu season (December to March) in the UK, the government there has said. The “on-the-spot” swab and DNA tests can detect coronavirus and flu. They will be rolled out in hospitals and care homes across the UK starting next week. At present, a third of COVID-19 tests in the UK take at least 24 hours to process. The UK Government has said that almost half a million of the new rapid tests, called LamPORE, will be available from next week in hospitals and care homes. The investment will help the UK Government work towards hitting its target of testing all care home staff and residents — a move that’s designed to identify so-called ‘silent spreaders’ individuals who are infected but asymptomatic. In addition, thousands of DNA test machines that can analyse nose swabs will be deployed to UK NHS hospitals from September, following successful rollouts across eight London hospitals. The c. 5,000 machines will provide around 5.8m test over the coming months. While the accuracy of the new swab and DNA tests has not yet been determined, Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, said they are on a par with current lab-based tests.
We recently wrote about how being overweight or obese increases COVID-19 risks. Now, a new study has revealed how Latinx individuals are significantly more likely to test positive for SARS-CoV-2 —, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — than any other ethnic or racial group. The researchers who conducted the study believe crowded living conditions, plus an economic necessity to continue working outdoors throughout the pandemic have contributed to the higher infection rates among Latinx communities. Furthermore, the researchers say that members of these communities are disproportionately less likely to have health insurance than their peers from other ethnic and racial groups. This reality, the researchers say, has contributed to the disparities we see today. For the study, the researchers analyzed over 35,000 COVID-19 test results from hospitals and outpatient clinics in the Baltimore-Washington area. They found that 16.3% of the tests were positive. Of those positive results, Latinx individuals accounted for 42.6% of the total, followed by black people (17.6%), “others” (17.2%), and white people (8.8%). Another uncovered discrepancy was that Latinx patients who tested positive and were subsequently hospitalized were significantly less likely to have been previously diagnosed with a health condition, something, the researchers suggest, could be due to them having poorer access to healthcare. The research, which is published in JAMA, involved a collaboration between the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the university’s Center for Data Science in Emergency Medicine.
Being obese or overweight increases the chances of someone with COVID-19 experiencing serious illness, complications, and death, new research suggests. Having examined existing studies, Public Health England (PHE) found that carrying excess weight put people at greater risk of requiring hospital admission or intensive care. Furthermore, that risk grew as weight increased. The findings of the PHE evidence review come ahead of an expected UK Government announcement relating to new measures to curb obesity in the country. At present, the UK has some of the highest obesity levels in Europe, with almost two-thirds of adults now either overweight or obese. Many believe that the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown have served to exacerbate many people’s weight issues, with individuals stuck at home for prolonged periods and unable to carry out their usual exercise regimes. The findings of the evidence review will be of particular concern to groups that are already at higher risk of COVID-related complications, such as older people, black and ethnic minorities, and those living in more deprived areas. Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said the current evidence was clear: “Losing weight can bring huge benefits for health - and may also help protect against the health risks of Covid-19," she said. "The case for action on obesity has never been stronger.”
If people washed their hands regularly, social distanced, and wore face masks most COVID-19 outbreaks could be prevented, even without a vaccine or additional treatments, a new study has found. According to the research published in the journal PLoS Medicine, which created a COVID-19 prevention and spread model, the steps should work in most western countries. The research found that government-imposed social distancing measures, such as closing business establishments, cancelling in-person events, and advising people to stay at home whenever possible, can delay the peak of a COVID-19 epidemic by up to seven months on their own. However, when coupled with regular handwashing and wearing masks, the peak of the epidemic can be delayed by a further few months. Furthermore, the earlier people adopt such measures, the greater the positive impact. The researchers from the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands said in a country where 90% of the population uses multiple actions, such as hand washing and social distancing, a large outbreak of COVID-19 or a second wave could be averted. Speaking about the findings of the research, Ganna Rozhnova, an infectious disease modeler at the University Medical Center Utrecht, said: “If nearly all [the] population adopted self-imposed measures we would not have to confront the possibility of secondary lockdowns as well as the possibility that we may find our medical systems overwhelmed during the peaks of epidemics.”
A coronavirus vaccine developed by the Universality of Oxford and AstraZeneca appears safe and triggers an immune response that should protect people against infection. According to a trial of the vaccine involving 1,077 participants, the findings of which are published in The Lancet, the vaccine led to individuals making antibodies and T-cells that fight SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus. Within just 14 days of receiving the vaccine, participants’ T-cell levels peaked. After 28 days participants’ antibody levels peaked. Both T-cells and antibodies are crucial in the body’s immune defence of viruses, which is why any effective vaccine needs to induce both in the people who receive it. But while the findings are immensely promising, more research is needed to determine exactly how safe the vaccine is, whether it can indeed provide protection against SARS-CoV-2 and how long any protection would last. Nevertheless, the UK has already ordered 100m doses of the vaccine. Prof Andrew Pollard, from the Oxford research group, told the BBC: “We're really pleased with the results published today as we're seeing both neutralising antibodies and T-cells. “They're extremely promising and we believe the type of response that may be associated with protection. “But the key question everyone wants to know is does the vaccine work, does it offer protection... and we're in a waiting game.” The next step is for more than 10,000 people to take part in the next stage of the trial to further determine how safe the vaccine is. [Related reading: World leaders pledge billions to help develop coronavirus vaccine]
It took more than 200,000 years for the world’s population to reach one billion, but only 200 years for it to top seven billion. Today, the population of the world is estimated to be just under 7.8bn. However, new analysis predicts that the number of people in the world will peak in 2064 at around 9.7 billion. Then, we will see a decline to around 8.87 billion by the end of the century. If this prediction is correct, the world’s population would be two billion below UN forecasts by 2100. The reasons behind the predicted decline include widening access to contraception and improvements in educating women and girls. According to the research led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington's School of Medicine, the findings of which are published in The Lancet, some countries, including Japan, Spain and Italy, will witness their populations halve in the next 80 years, while sub-Saharan Africa’s population will triple. Furthermore, the number of older people in the world will overtake the number of young, with estimates saying there will be 2.4 billion people over the age of 65 forecast by 2100, compared with 1.7 billion under the age of 20. Speaking about the findings of the research, IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray, who led the study, said: “Continued global population growth through the century is no longer the most likely trajectory for the world's population. This study provides governments of all countries an opportunity to start rethinking their policies on migration, workforces and economic development to address the challenges presented by demographic change.”
People who have recovered from COVID-19 and gained immunity to the disease could lose it again within months, a new study from the UK suggests. According to the research by a team from King’s College London, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) could reinfect people year after year, much like common colds. Having studied the immune responses of more than 90 patients and healthcare workers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust, the researchers found that COVID-19 antibody levels peaked about three weeks after the onset of symptoms. [Related reading: Coronavirus: Immunity levels likely to be higher than antibody tests suggest] Blood tests revealed that while 60% of COVID-19 patients displayed a “potent” antibody response at the height of their battle with the disease, this figure fell to just 17% three months later. In some cases, antibody levels became undetectable. The findings of the study have implications when it comes to developing a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as achieving greater herd immunity. The bottom line is that if antibody levels drop over time and people are able to be reinfected seasonally, a vaccine would not actually provide any long-term benefits. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Katie Doores, lead author from King’s College London, said: “People are producing a reasonable antibody response to the virus, but it’s waning over a short period of time and depending on how high your peak is, that determines how long the antibodies are staying around.”
Following an open letter from more than 200 scientists to the World Health Organization (WHO), the international body is rethinking its stance on how COVID-19 spreads through the air. “We wanted them to acknowledge the evidence,” Jose Jimenez, a chemist at the University of Colorado who signed the paper, told the Reuters news agency. “This is definitely not an attack on the WHO. It's a scientific debate, but we felt we needed to go public because they were refusing to hear the evidence after many conversations with them,” he said. The WHO has acknowledged that emerging evidence shows how the coronavirus can be spread by tiny particles suspended in the air. It’s a reality that makes transmission of the virus in crowded, closed or poorly ventilated spaces much more likely. Outdoors, the aerosols evaporate and disperse much more quickly, reducing the risk of infection. Until now, WHO guidance does not address the fact that COVID-19 can be transmitted through minuscule droplets that hang in the air for potentially hours. All the evidence will now be thoroughly evaluated to determine its reliability, which could lead to new advice and guidelines from the WHO. As a result, compulsory face mask rules and even stricter social distancing measures could be implemented in places like bars, restaurants and public transport.
Authorities in China have stepped up precautions after a person in the country’s Inner Mongolian region was diagnosed with bubonic plague. According to state reports, the Bayannur patient is in quarantine and in a stable condition. A second suspected case involving a 15-year-old girl is currently being investigated. While it remains unclear how either patient contracted the disease, the young girl is said to have been in contact with a marmot (pictured), a species of giant squirrel. Once the world’s most feared disease, bubonic plague is easily treated nowadays using antibiotics. Nevertheless, the herdsman’s diagnosis will cause concern given the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic globally. Bubonic plague is caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria that live in some animals (mainly rodents) and their fleas. As a result of the bubonic plague discovery, a level 3 alert, which bans the hunting and eating of animals that could carry the disease, has been implemented until the end of the year. It is worth noting that these new cases are nothing out of the ordinary. From 2010 to 2015, 3,248 cases of bubonic plague were reported worldwide, including 584 deaths. Speaking about the recent bubonic plague outbreak in China, Dr Matthew Dryden, consultant microbiologist at the University of Southampton in the UK, told BBS News: “It is good that this has been picked up and reported at an early stage because it can be isolated, treated and spread prevented. “Bubonic plague is caused by a bacterium and so, unlike Covid-19, is readily treated with antibiotics. So although this might appear alarming, being another major infectious disease emerging from the East, it appears to be a single suspected case which can be readily treated.”
More people have immunity to coronavirus than antibody tests suggest, new research shows. The study from Sweden found that for every person who tested positive for antibodies — which are usually a strong indicator of whether someone has previously had an infection — two were found to have specific T-cells which identify and destroy infected cells. According to the research from the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden, even individuals who had mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 had T-cells, despite testing negative for antibodies. The research is important because it could mean that more people than first thought have immunity to COVID-19. However, it is not yet clear whether this just protects the individual, or if it also stops them from passing on the infection to others. Prof Danny Altmann at Imperial College London described the study as “robust, impressive and thorough" and said it added to a growing body of evidence that "antibody testing alone underestimates immunity”. The results of the study are so new that they have not undergone peer review, nor been published in a scientific journal. Nevertheless, they can be seen as good news from a public health perspective as they indicate that public immunity to COVID-19 is likely a lot higher than first thought.
A strict COVD-19 lockdown has been reinstated near Beijing in China after a small surge in cases. The restrictions in Anxin county in Hebei province affect around 400,000 people, with only those classed as ‘essential workers’ allowed to leave their homes. One member of each household is also allowed to go out once a day to shop for necessities. In the last two weeks, there have been 18 new COVID-19 cases in Anxin. While this may sound like only a small number, China is taking the threat of a potential second coronavirus wave seriously, hence the swift lockdown. Luckily, Anxin county, which is approximately 90 miles south of Beijing, is not as densely populated as many of China’s other large urban centers and local officials believe this small spike can be contained. Up until two weeks ago when Beijing experienced a spate of new COVID-19 cases, the Chinese capital had gone 57 days without a locally-transmitted case. Despite the pockets of new cases appearing, China has, in general, successfully “flattened the curve” in recent months. While places like the United States and South America witness thousands of new cases on a daily basis, China has added only 4,700 since the start of March.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has previously recommended people wear cloth face coverings in public settings to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2. However, some people have been concerned about whether face coverings, such as masks, cause carbon dioxide (CO2) poisoning. Experts have now come out saying that’s impossible. Speaking about the use of cloth face masks, Prof Keith Neal, an infectious disease expert, said wearing one will not cause hypercapnia (too much carbon dioxide in the blood). Echoing these comments, Darrell Spurlock Jr., PhD, RN, the director of the Leadership Center for Nursing Education Research at Widener University, said: “Rebreathing tiny amounts of CO2 from wearing either properly fitted N95 respirators or more loosely fitted cloth or surgical masks is of no concern for the vast, vast majority of people.” Carbon dioxide molecules are tiny and do not get trapped by the breathable material used to make cloth ace masks. When you breathe out, the carbon dioxide goes through and round the mask. Surgeons and other medical professionals regularly wear much more heavy duty face coverings all day without coming to harm. Face masks can play a potentially important role in reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 because they can help limit it being transmitted by an infected individual. This is particularly true for people who are asymptomatic and do not actually know they have the virus. The only stipulation when it comes to the wearing of cloth face masks is that people with existing lung conditions should consult their physician before doing so. This is because masks do affect normal air entry and could make breathing difficult for people with severe lung diseases. [Related reading: COVID-19: Could a second wave already be here?]
With many countries now seemingly in control of the COVID-19 pandemic, attention is turning to a potential ‘second wave’ of the virus. But what does this actually mean? The Spanish Flu pandemic that began in early March 1918 lasted for around two years. But it was the second wave of the virus during three especially cruel months in the fall of 1918 that proved to be the deadliest. It raises questions about whether there will be a second wave of COVID-19. Now the easiest way to picture a second wave is to think of waves on the sea. The total number of infections goes up and then down, until the next wave comes along and the process begins all over again. To say that one wave has ended, the total number of infections needs to fall substantially. If we were then to see a significant rise once more, it would be safe to say that we are experiencing a so-called second wave. Health officials in South Korea believe the country is now experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 infections. Despite being one of the success stories of the pandemic, officials are now bracing for potential restrictions for several more months. While global lockdowns have had a profound impact on economies and people’s lives, lifting them too much and too early could lead to a second wave of COVID-19. That’s why any easing will come in stages and contact tracing and wearing face masks could be the new norm for a while. Hopefully, with effective social distancing measures and frequent handwashing, a second COVID-19 wave can be averted. However, what actually happens remains to be seen. [Related reading: This cost effective, low-dose steroid could be a breakthrough treatment for COVID-19]
Experts in the UK say a cost effective and widely available drug can help save the lives of seriously ill COVID-19 patients. The drug, dexamethasone, a steroid, has been around since the early 1960s, and is usually given in low doses to patients with severe asthma, allergies and painful/swollen joints. It is also used to treat autoimmune conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. Dexamethasone’s effect on inflammation and our immune systems is what is believed to make it useful in treating patients with severe COVID-19 infections. The drug is part of the RECOVERY Trial, the largest clinical trial to date aiming to identify treatments that may be beneficial for COVID-19 patients. As part of the trial, researchers studied the effect of dexamethasone in 2,000 patients and compared that to the outcomes in 4,000 patients who did not receive it. Dexamethasone was found to cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators. For those on oxygen, it cut deaths by a fifth. This equates to one life saved for every eight on ventilators and every 20-25 treated with oxygen. One of the biggest benefits of dexamethasone is that it is not cost prohibitive, meaning it could be pivotal for treating COVID-19 in poorer countries. [Related reading: What does it mean for a vaccine if the new coronavirus mutates?]
As the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections around the world passes eight million, hopes still remain on a vaccine being developed. But what does it mean for a potential vaccine if the new coronavirus mutates? Well, the bottom line is that all viruses mutate, it is part of their life cycle, so there’s a very good chance that SARS-CoV-2 will too. The good news though is that mutations can actually lead to weaker viruses, although the reality is that there’s usually no noticeable difference in the disease’s transmission and fatality rates. This seems to be the case with SARS-CoV-2. Mutations that are currently spreading around places like New York do not seem to be any more infectious or fatal than the original strain that came out of Wuhan, China, in late December. According to the Scripps Research Institute in Florida, any SARS-CoV-2 vaccine that is developed will also likely be effective against mutated forms of the virus. It’s the reason why our very effective vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (which are RNA viruses like SARS-CoV-2) still protects us, despite these viruses mutating over the years. So even if SARS-CoV-2 mutates further down the road, while we might see some breakthrough infections, it wouldn’t necessarily lead to a new pandemic. [Related reading: How long before there’s a coronavirus vaccine?]
The World Health Organization’s Maria Van Kerkhove, MD and technical lead for the WHO’s pandemic response, caused a stir recently when she implied that transmission of the coronavirus from asymptomatic individuals appears to be “very rare.” Now, the WHO has sought to clarify her comments, saying they were based on a relatively small set of studies. Kerkhove’s comments caused confusion because they appeared to directly contradict advice from several public health organizations. While evidence suggests that individuals with symptoms are most infectious, others do not develop any symptoms at all, despite testing positive for SARS-CoV-2. What remains unknown is how many other people these asymptomatic individuals go on to infect. It’s one of the reasons why Europe-wide lockdowns have been so effective in halting the spread of the virus, saving millions of lives. Then there are people who infect others while they are pre-symptomatic, meaning before they have actually developed any symptoms but later do. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pre-symptomatic individuals account for around 40% of coronavirus transmission. Director of the WHO's health emergencies programme, Dr Michael Ryan, said he was "absolutely convinced" that asymptomatic transmission was occurring; "the question is how much". So the bottom line seems to be that we simply don’t know how big a role asymptomatic individuals play in the spread of the virus. More research is needed.
While the COVID-19 lockdowns across Europe have not been easy for most people, new research shows that they have been effective in saving countless lives. According to the study by a team at Imperial College, London, Europe-wide lockdowns to reduce the impact of SARS-CoV-2 have saved more than three million lives. The team said that if lockdown had not been implemented across the continent, the “death toll would have been huge”. However, the team also warned that Europe is still only at the beginning of the pandemic and that scores more people could be infected. Assessing the impact of lockdowns up to the beginning of May in 11 European countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. By that time, approximately 130,000 people had died from COVID-19 in those countries. Using disease modelling, the researchers predicted how many deaths there would have been if no lockdowns and restrictions had been enforced. They estimated 3.2 million people would have died by 4 May, the report in the journal Nature shows. In other words, lockdown measures prevented around 3.1 million lives, including 470,000 in the UK, 630,000 in Italy and 690,000 in France. "Lockdown averted millions of deaths, those deaths would have been a tragedy," said Dr. Seth Flaxman, from Imperial College. [Related reading: Which demographic worries least about COVID-19?]