Medicine Of Tomorrow, Here Today

An executive and doctor with Kaiser Permanente, Stephen Parodi ’92 explains how COVID-19 has called for more widespread access to telemedicine.

The future is now. While the pandemic has exposed health care inequities, it is also speeding us toward a future in which better care can be more accessible.

How do people in quarantine see a doctor for non-pandemic-related issues? Telemedicine. And what happens when patients don’t need to be at the hospital? Healing at home. The medicine of tomorrow is here today, courtesy COVID-19.

At the command center of Northern California’s largest health care provider, Stephen Parodi ’92 has seen pandemic flu, wildfires forcing hospital evacuations, and now a new virus.

“One of the big differences with this new coronavirus is the magnitude of the response,” says Parodi, an infectious disease doctor with Kaiser Permanente who is also an executive vice president for communications with The Permanente Federation. “It hasn’t just affected health care. It’s affected the entire society. It requires us, because we take care of so many patients, to think about being responsible for the social needs of our patients.”

Smartphone In Medical Mask. Courtesy iStock
Use of telemedicine increased exponentially in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Widespread smartphone technology allowed for non-emergency care to be offered over the phone and via video calls easily./ Photo courtesy iStock.

Patients may not have access to transportation or may not want to come to a medical center at this dangerous moment. But, Parodi notes, most people have a smartphone. And this is how the pandemic accelerated the adoption of telemedicine—as a solution, a lifeline, a connection.

At the height of early stay-at-home orders in the spring, about 90 percent of Kaiser’s primary care visits were being done either by video or over the phone. “The nature of the way we function as a society will fundamentally change. The nature of what work looks like, what a restaurant looks like is going to change,” Parodi says. “And I think you are going to find that a significant amount of health care is virtual.”

Even when medicine doesn’t all hap-pen over the internet or over the phone, it may still happen more often at home.

“If you think of what this could open the door to,” Parodi says, “it could open the door for skilled nursing at home.” And people generally heal better at home.

“I like to give the example that it’s whole-person care. Where we are understanding what kind of food are you eating. What medicines are on your table,” he says. “I think you don’t really know a person until you’ve walked in their shoes or been in their home.”

And, strangely, a pandemic could deliver health care providers to our front doors.

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