When a patient receives a potentially life-threatening diagnosis, access to timely care is paramount. But what happens when the only available in-person appointment is months away? For millions of Americans, this is the reality – a reality that telemedicine is working to change.
To demonstrate this point, VirtualMed Staff’s President, Jack Williams, recently found himself in a position to assist a colleague who needed immediate access to a neurologist. After receiving a diagnosis for a neurological emergency that required swift action, the patient found themselves in dire straights as they faced wait times of not days or weeks, but months.
“VirtualMed Staff has always stated that our goal is to deliver quality care, whenever and wherever it’s needed,” says Jack Williams. “When our team of neurologists found out about our colleague’s situation, they jumped at the opportunity to assist.”
Within a few hours, the patient went from waiting months to be seen, to having two options: seeing a VirtualMed teleneurolgoist the same day, or seeing a neurologist in-person the next day – one that happened to also be a VirtualMed teleneurologist. Ultimately, the patient chose the on-site visit so that the CT scan, MRI results, and lab results could be reviewed promptly and in person, including the development of a treatment plan.
“It’s scary for any family to receive a potentially life-threatening diagnosis,” says Williams, “But it’s especially scary to have to wait so long to speak to a specialist. Fortunately, our team offered two solutions for the patient, each of them excellent choices.”
VirtualMed Staff was in the fortunate position to help when it was needed most, but for millions of patients across America, access to specialty providers like neurologists is critically needed.
The unfortunate reality of access to neurologists
There’s a growing shortage of neurologists across America that is impacting timely access to neurological care for millions of patients. According to a survey by athenahealth, the wait time to see a neurologist were, on average, 23.5 days in 2017. With shortfalls of neurologists projected to increase from 11% in 2012 to 19% by 2025, these wait times are likely to worsen. Especially for rural areas.
A study published in the American Academy of Neurology in 2020 highlighted the disparity between patients in urban and rural settings. The study found that, “Overall, 24% of patients with a neurologic condition were seen by a neurologist, but rates varied from 21% in more rural areas to 27% in more urban areas with the most neurologists.” The study also highlighted that some areas of the country have “up to four times as many neurologists as the lowest served areas.” These differences mean that there are some patients who simply do not have access to neurologists, despite desperately needing care.
Fortunately, telemedicine and teleneurology are providing a solution for many of these shortfalls and challenges occurring across the country – a fact that the study goes on to highlight.
"One way to give people more access to neurologic care is with telemedicine, which has been used successfully during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. James Stevens, president of the American Academy of Neurology. “Remote office visits by computer or telephone are one way to extend neurological service to people in underserved areas."
Teleneurology is helping to solve the neurologist shortfall
For Jack Williams and the team of teleneurologists at VirtualMed Staff, the above example is only a glimpse at the benefits that teleneurology is providing patients across the country. “We were fortunate to be in a position that we are to help a colleague in need,” says Jack, “But our work isn’t done. There are still patients who need our help.”
Thanks to the VirtualMed Staff Neurologists and their generosity and willingness to help, a patient in critical need was able to receive timely care. As telemedicine laws regulations begin to expand access to those in need, the ultimate goal is that telemedicine will serve as the bridge to care that millions of patients desperately need.