Has COVID-19 Been a Tipping Point for Telemedicine? An Unintended Consequence?

Joseph R. Anticaglia MD
Medical Advisory Board

Telemedicine is the special use of audio or video telecommunication systems to diagnose and treat medical conditions of patients ‘virtually’ — without the physical presence of a physician or health care worker. Patients are treated remotely without the need to visit their doctor’s office or rush to the emergency department of the hospital or urgent care centers.

COVID-19 exploded globally in early 2020. It focused the public’s eye on the usefulness of telemedicine to contain and mitigate the spread of this pandemic. “Could COVID-19 be the watershed moment for telemedicine?” In other words, could this pandemic be the turning point that caused a significant increase in the use of telemedicine and a decrease in the number of patients in doctors’ waiting rooms, emergency departments and urgent care centers? Could it be the tipping point of a decline of face-to-face consultations in examining rooms?

In a previous post I noted, “I reviewed a CT scan of the sinus (an image study) with a radiologist who is originally from Australia. The left maxillary sinus, (cheek sinus) was involved and one needed to determine whether it was cancerous or fungal in nature. While discussing this case, he received a message from a radiologist colleague who lives in Melbourne. She requested a second opinion concerning a patient who suffered head trauma.” The doctor transmitted radiographic images of the head trauma to her physician- friend in the United States.

On the telephone he said, “I’ll be happy to get back to you in about 30 minutes with my diagnosis and recommendations. Right now I’m busy discussing a sinus case with one of my colleagues. Is that OK?”

At present, there are more international medical discussions zooming back and forth among people in different countries than at any time in the history of medicine. To put it in another way, welcome to “Doctors Without Waiting Rooms” and “Medicine Without Borders” ..

Telecommunications technologies are not new. In the 1960’s, NASA put men into space and monitored the astronauts’ vital signs plus other parameters. Dr. Ray Dorsey working at Johns Hopkins has used telemedicine to monitor Parkinson patients.

“Doctors have used telemedicine to provide care for the HIV infected patient in the prison population. The airline industry has used this technology to treat passengers with in flight medical emergencies. The symptoms can be downloaded and video conferencing initiated to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of a passenger’s condition and decide, for example, if the flight should be diverted or not.”

From earaches to cancer patients, Telemedicine is helping to diagnose, treat and provide follow-up care for patients locally and internationally. With the COVID-19 outbreak, its usefulness is being more widely appreciated and called upon to manage various conditions and calm nerves.

Benefits of Telemedicine and Health Care Professionals

  • Healthcare professionals available 24/7 (anytime-anywhere)
  • Reduce unnecessary trips to the doctor’s office and the emergency department
  • Reduce health care costs
  • Avoid exposure to bacteria, viruses and diseases
  • Diagnose and treat the illness; can order diagnostic tests and write prescriptions
  • Patients are referred back to family doctor or specialist
  • Medical records are forwarded, with patients’ permission, to their doctors.

Telemedicine can be especially helpful during a disaster. When travel is restricted and selfquarantine is imposed, its services can help get prescriptions refilled or replaced, manage chronic diseases and treat non-emergency medical problems over the phone or with video communication greatly reducing emergency department visits.

With the COVID-19 outbreak, telemedicine’s usefulness is being more widely appreciated and called upon to manage common conditions and calm nerves. It is a “Win-Win” addition to the arsenal designed to combat disease and it’s delivered in the comfort of your own home.


  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention; The Use of Telehealth and Telemedicine in Public Health
  2. Joseph R. Anticaglia, MD; Telemedicine: A “Win-Win” Game: Medicine Without Borders and Doctors Without Waiting Rooms; Doctor’s Column, HC Smart, 2014
  3. Joseph R. Anticaglia, MD; The 2019 New Coronavirus Outbreak What to Know? What to Do? Doctor’s Column, HC Smart. February 2020

This article is intended solely as a learning experience. Please consult your physician for diagnostic and treatment options.