Physicians and clinicians are facing the unique challenge of practicing social distancing with their patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems almost impossible because the practice of healthcare is so hands-on.
However, Eko Health is hoping to overcome this challenge by marrying its technology with telemedicine. Last week, the digital health company launched Eko Telehealth, an artificial intelligence-powered telemedicine platform geared toward cardiac exams.
“As we think of the future of healthcare, the fact the clinician and the patient aren’t in the same room shouldn’t preclude the doctor from being able to do a full exam,” Jason Bellet, co-founder and COO of Eko told MD+DI. “We’ve always kind of had our eye toward telehealth. About 200 health systems were using our services for telehealth pre-COVID-19 …”
The company said the platform incorporates its digital stethoscope and ECG live-streaming with embedded video conferencing and FDA-cleared algorithms for heart murmur and atrial fibrillation detection.
“Video telemedicine and virtual patient visits only go so far,” Connor Landgraf, CEO and co-founder of Eko said in a release. “Patients with complex cardiovascular diseases will receive incomplete care through just video conference. It’s critical that a provider is able to assess a patient’s heart and lung function remotely,” said Connor Landgraf, CEO and co-founder of Eko. “The Eko intelligent telehealth platform gives providers the most comprehensive picture of a patient’s heart and lung health. Virtual cardiac and pulmonary medicine will become the standard of care even after the pandemic abates.”
With Eko, a provider at a patient site, such as a hospital, rural clinic or nursing home can stream stethoscope audio and ECG to a physician residing in a separate room or at a virtual care center, medical center or specialty clinic, thus reducing in-person exposure to infectious diseases, like COVID-19.
“In addition to being spatially distant from their patients, doctors are also having to practice medicine with a lot less information than they would if the patient were face-to-face,” Bellet said. “What our platform does that no other platform does, is not only connect the patient and provider via video but allows them to have one of the most critical parts of their physical exam back, which is the stethoscope.”
Eko has had a busy 2020. The company recently landed emergency use authorization for a device that helps detect coronavirus patients with cardiac complications.
And earlier this year, Eko won FDA clearance for a suite of algorithms that will allow its digital stethoscope to more accurately screen for heart conditions that include heart murmurs and atrial fibrillation (AFib) during routine physical exams.
Telemedicine on the Rise
The case for telemedicine has never been stronger. The pandemic has caused many to rapidly embrace the concept and practice of telehealth. In an April report, Canaccord Genuity’s Medtech Analyst Jason Mills wrote, “we believe that telemedicine and virtual connectivity capabilities will create a more efficient, organized healthcare continuum – connecting clinicians, patients, and medtech companies perhaps to a degree that we have not seen before.”
One of the key drivers behind the recent boom in telemedicine, other than the virus, are changes within reimbursement.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently offered up some sweeping changes that will have offer reimbursement to Practitioners who provide telehealth services. CMS said it was also upping payments for telephone-only telehealth visits.“We’re seeing in both clinic-to-clinic and clinic-to-patient a dramatic increase in the need for telehealth given COVID-19 and given the relaxation of some of the restrictions on reimbursement that existed beforehand,” Bellet said. “The real challenge for these physicians is being able to provide the same level of care that they can provide in person.”
The result of these changes has significantly sped up the timetable for telehealth applications.
“Telehealth is where I thought we would have been five years from now, but because of COVID-19 it happened in five months,” he said. “We just 12xd our rate of telehealth adoption. I think in another five years, we’re going to see telehealth here to stay. In order to continue to provide the same level of care and not have telehealth just be another stop-gap solution, we need to invest in tools that allow doctors diagnose, detect, and monitor disease at the same clinical accuracy they can do face-to-face.”