Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria Remind Us that Telemedicine Can Help Provide Important Medical Care in Times of Natural Disasters

As Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria brought destruction to the U.S. within a 30-day period, medical professionals rushed in to help of all stripes and colors. In addition to the traditional on-the-ground relief efforts, a growing number of doctors, nurses and others provided care remotely through the phone, video, smartphone apps and other telemedicine modalities. The provision of both emergency and non-emergency care via telemedicine is a growing trend across the U.S., and now is becoming recognized as a very useful adjunct during a natural disaster.

Telemedicine providers filled a critical need for many patients as these hurricanes wreaked havoc after making landfall.  During a time when many hospitals were desperately understaffed or simply out of reach for those requiring care, many patients found support and relieve through telemedicine.  For example, individuals with diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular disease were able to monitor their conditions or coordinate care remotely through telemedicine.  Individuals with anxiety and other mental health issues also received critical support through telemedicine.

While many shelters had doctors on hand, not all of them had pediatricians or other specialists. At Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas, for instance, Children’s Health utilized a computer monitor and specially designed equipment to measure vital signs that allowed doctors to care for people remotely. Texas law concerning telemedicine was just changed in May 2017, a few months before Harvey hit, making Texas the last U.S. state permitting patients to be seen via telemedicine without having an initial in person visit. This became critical to the thousands of Texas residents displaced by Harvey.

The list of telehealth responders is quite long. Doctors on Demand, HealthTap, Teledoc, and others have offered hurricane victims free telehealth access to medical providers. American Well offered free visits for medical and psychological counseling. Insurers are helping as well: Anthem’s LiveHealth Online is available for victims of Irma even if they aren’t an Anthem member, and Orlando Health is also providing telehealth services. Hospitals, too, such as Florida Hospital and Nemours Children’s Hospital, are providing people access to providers through telehealth services.

To learn how CHQI’s telemedicine accreditation programs can strengthen the credibility of your telemedicine providers, click here.


Information for this blog was gleaned from the following articles: