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Telemedicine emerges as care option during COVID-19 outbreak

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Telemedicine emerges

By TOM MURPHY AP Health Writer

Got a worrisome rash? You can still see a doctor if you can’t leave home during the coronavirus outbreak.

U.S. public health officials, hospitals and insurance companies are pushing people to try telemedicine for their allergies, earaches and other minor problems and skip the doctor’s office or clinic.

It’s also a way to check in with a doctor if you think you have symptoms of COVID-19.

The goal: Prevent the spread of coronavirus, especially to those who are most vulnerable, older people and those with existing health conditions.

Virtual care has long been touted as a way to get help quickly instead of waiting days to see a doctor, yet Americans have been slow to embrace it. There are signs that may be changing because of COVID-19.

Here’s a closer look at how telemedicine works.

WHAT IS TELEMEDICINE?

Got a smartphone, tablet or computer? That’s all you really need to use telemedicine, sometimes called telehealth or virtual visits.

Generally, it just refers to a video visit with a remotely located care provider like a doctor or therapist over a secure connection. The patient uses a website link or an app to connect.

Some telemedicine outlets also offer a version using text messages between a doctor and patient who may not actually speak to or see each other.

Telemedicine often involves diagnosing and treating a new health problem but is also used to keep tabs on an existing, long-term conditions like diabetes. It’s more than calling to get a prescription refill, although doctors can write some prescriptions, like antibiotics, after a telemedicine visit.

WHO OFFERS IT?

Insurers and hospital systems are frequent sources. In fact, your email inbox may have an offer from one of those providers urging you to try it now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The federal government last week said it will immediately expand telemedicine access to help people with Medicare, its coverage program for those 65 and over as well as younger patients who qualify because of a disability. And it urged states to expand the service to those enrolled in Medicaid, the government coverage program for people with low incomes.

Medicare coverage of telemedicine had been limited, largely to rural areas where patients had to go to specially-designated sites for their visits. Many Medicare Advantage plans run by insurers also provide access to telemedicine.

WHAT DOES IT COST?

Prices vary. But many insurance companies and other providers are temporarily waiving fees to push more people to use some virtual care.

Check before your visit with the insurer or employer that provides your coverage. The plan may not cover some specialty care like virtual therapy sessions or it may offer limited coverage.

What if you don’t have insurance? You can pay out-of-pocket through some telemedicine providers. MDLive treats mostly through video chats and charges $75 for an urgent care visit. A session with a dermatologist costs $69.

Another company, 98point6, charges a $20 annual fee and then $1 for each visit. The company diagnoses and treats through secure text messaging.

WHAT IS TELEMEDICINE FOR?

Sinus infections, bronchitis, the flu, asthma, pink eye or fevers are just a few examples. Telemedicine can handle a lot of care that would normally send patients to a doctor’s office or drugstore clinic.

Dermatologists can examine warts or moles remotely. Therapists also can treat anxiety, depression or stress while allowing patients to remain in a place like their home where they feel more comfortable.

Patients worried about the coronavirus also can get a quick cyber consultation with a doctor. Many telemedicine providers have designed computer programs to ask patients initial questions to help gauge their health or their risk of virus exposure.

WHAT ARE ITS LIMITS?

A virtual physician cannot treat chest pains, broken bones or cuts that need stitches. That doctor also won’t be able to perform a coronavirus test.

In some cases, they also may have to refer patients to another doctor for an in-person visit.

Telemedicine providers often tout their ability to connect patients with help in a matter of minutes. But a surge in coronavirus-fueled demand has slowed response times for some providers.

Doctors also say there are some parts of an in-person visit that telemedicine cannot replicate. A doctor may spot additional health problems simply by noticing a change in a regular patient’s behavior or appearance.

“My examination starts when I see the patient walk in the room, the way they talk, the way they walk, just subtle things,” said Dr. Gary LeRoy, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “It can’t always be done remotely.”

WHY CAN PATIENTS BE SLOW TO TRY IT?

Researchers have long said that health care behavior is hard to change. In telemedicine’s case, patients may be especially reluctant to try something unfamiliar, especially if it doesn’t involve their regular doctor.

Awareness is another problem. People may hear about telemedicine from their employer or insurer and then forget about it when they need help a few months later.

But people frequently become repeat customers after trying telemedicine, said Dr. Jason Tibbels, an executive with telemedicine provider Teladoc Health. And he thinks that the awareness created by the coronavirus will last long after the pandemic fades.

“These are the moments that we were built for,” he said.


Follow Tom Murphy on Twitter: @thpmurphy


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Intel to sell NAND business to SKorean rival for $9 billion

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SKorean

Intel has agreed to a $9 billion deal to sell most of its memory business to South Korea’s SK Hynix as it moves toward more diverse technologies while shedding a major Chinese factory at a time of deepening trade friction between Washington and Beijing.

Intel said it will keep its “Optane” business of more advanced memory products, which analysts say are mostly produced in the United States.

According to the plan confirmed by the companies on Tuesday, SK Hynix will acquire Intel’s NAND memory chip and storage business, including a related manufacturing site in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian. SK Hynix said the companies expect to get required governmental approvals for the deal by late 2021.

The transaction, if completed, could reportedly make SK Hynix the world’s second-largest provider of NAND flash memory chips behind Samsung Electronics, another South Korean chip giant.

Demand for flash memory has strengthened in recent months due to buying of personal computers and servers as the coronavirus pandemic forces millions to work from home.

Intel said it plans to invest proceeds from the transaction into advancing long-growth priorities, including technologies related to artificial intelligence and fifth-generation wireless networks.

“This transaction will allow us to further prioritize our investments in differentiated technology where we can play a bigger role in the success of our customers and deliver attractive returns to our stockholders,” Bob Swan, Intel’s CEO, said in a statement.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP).

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Is Facebook really ready for the 2020 election?

Inside Telecom Staff

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Ever since Russian agents and other opportunists abused its platform in an attempt to manipulate the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook has insisted — repeatedly — that it’s learned its lesson and is no longer a conduit for misinformation, voter suppression and election disruption.

But it has been a long and halting journey for the social network. Critical outsiders, as well as some of Facebook’s own employees, say the company’s efforts to revise its rules and tighten its safeguards remain wholly insufficient to the task, despite it having spent billions on the project. As for why, they point to the company’s persistent unwillingness to act decisively over much of that time.

“Am I concerned about the election? I’m terrified,” said Roger McNamee, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and an early Facebook investor turned vocal critic. “At the company’s current scale, it’s a clear and present danger to democracy and national security.”

The company’s rhetoric has certainly gotten an update. CEO Mark Zuckerberg now casually references possible outcomes that were unimaginable in 2016 — among them, possible civil unrest and potentially a disputed election that Facebook could easily make even worse — as challenges the platform now faces.

“This election is not going to be business as usual,” Zuckerberg wrote in a September Facebook post in which he outlined Facebook’s efforts to encourage voting and remove misinformation from its service. “We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy.”

Yet for years Facebook executives have seemed to be caught off guard whenever their platform — created to connect the world — was used for malicious purposes. Zuckerberg has offered multiple apologies over the years, as if no one could have predicted that people would use Facebook to live-stream murders and suicides, incite ethnic cleansings, promote fake cancer cures or attempt to steal elections.

While other platforms like Twitter and YouTube have also struggled to address misinformation and hateful content, Facebook stands apart for its reach and scale and, compared to many other platforms, its slower response to the challenges identified in 2016.

In the immediate aftermath of President Donald Trump’s election, Zuckerberg offered a remarkably tone-deaf quip regarding the notion that “fake news” spread on Facebook could have influenced the 2016 election, calling it “a pretty crazy idea.” A week later, he walked back the comment.

Since then, Facebook has issued a stream of mea culpas for its slowness to act against threats to the 2016 election and promised to do better. “I don’t think they have become better at listening,” said David Kirkpatrick, author of a book on Facebook’s rise. “What’s changed is more people have been telling them they need to do something.”

The company has hired outside fact-checkers, added restrictions — then more restrictions — on political advertisements and taken down thousands of accounts, pages and groups it found to be engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” That’s Facebook’s term for fake accounts and groups that maliciously target political discourse in countries ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe.

It’s also started added warning labels to posts that contain misinformation about voting and has, at times, taken steps to limit the circulation of misleading posts. In recent weeks the platform also banned posts that deny the Holocaust and joined Twitter in limiting the spread of an unverified political story about Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, published by the conservative New York Post.

All this unquestionably puts Facebook in a better position than it was in four years ago. But that doesn’t mean it’s fully prepared. Despite tightened rules banning them, violent militias are still using the platform to organize. Recently, this included a foiled plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan.

In the four years since the last election, Facebook’s earnings and user growth have soared. This year, analysts expect the company to rake in profits of $23.2 billion on revenue of $80 billion, according to FactSet. It currently boasts 2.7 billion users worldwide, up from 1.8 billion at this time in 2016.

Facebook faces a number of government investigations into its size and market power, including an antitrust probe by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. An earlier FTC investigation socked Facebook with a large $5 billion fine, but didn’t require any additional changes.

“Their No. 1 priority is growth, not reducing harm,” Kirkpatrick said. “And that is unlikely to change.”

Part of the problem: Zuckerberg maintains an iron grip on the company, yet doesn’t take criticism of him or his creation seriously, charges social media expert Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University communications professor. But the public knows what’s going on, they said. “They see COVID misinformation. They see how Donald Trump exploits it. They can’t unsee it.”

Facebook insists it takes the challenge of misinformation seriously — especially when it comes to the election.

“Elections have changed since 2016, and so has Facebook,” the company said in a statement laying out its policies on the election and voting. “We have more people and better technology to protect our platforms, and we’ve improved our content policies and enforcement.”

Grygiel says such comments are par for the course: “This company uses PR in place of an ethical business model.”

Kirkpatrick notes that board members and executives who have pushed back against the CEO — a group that includes the founders of Instagram and WhatsApp — have left the company.

“He is so certain that Facebook’s overall impact on the world is positive” and that critics don’t give him enough credit for that, Kirkpatrick said of Zuckerberg. As a result, the Facebook CEO isn’t inclined to take constructive feedback. “He doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to. He has no oversight,” Kirkpatrick said.

The federal government has so far left Facebook to its own devices, a lack of accountability that has only empowered the company, according to U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat who grilled Zuckerberg during a July Capitol Hill hearing.

Warning labels are of limited value if the algorithms underlying the platform are designed to push polarizing material at users, she said. “I think Facebook has done some things that indicate it understands its role. But it has been, in my opinion, far too little, too late.”

By BARBARA ORTUTAY and DAVID KLEPPER Associated Press.

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UK Space Agency backs medical drone delivery project

Inside Telecom Staff

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A medical drone delivery service founded by trainee doctors that aims to transport coronavirus samples, test kits and protective equipment between hospitals has won the backing of Britain’s Space Agency.

The start-up project can help free up healthcare staff, avoid courier waiting times and minimize the risk of virus transmission, authorities said Saturday.

Trainee doctors Hammad Jeilani and Christopher Law are trialing “dronepad” infrastructure so the miniature aircraft can take off from and land on hospitals, laboratories and warehouses. They are planning to scale up the trials and set up a nationwide network of secure air corridors to enable the drone delivery service to work safely across National Health Service sites.

The hybrid drones — which have the rotors of a typical drone and the wings of a plane — can carry a maximum of 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) and fly about 60 miles (96 kilometers.)

The drone project is among others set to share 1.3 million pounds ($1.7 million) of funding from the U.K. Space Agency and the European Space Agency to businesses developing space-based solutions for challenges created by Covid-19.

LONDON (AP).

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