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How coronavirus turned a 'niche market' into a necessity for the world's doctors

Brooke DiPalma
Associate Producer

As coronavirus, or COVID-19, continues to spread with nearly 680,000 confirmed cases worldwide as of Saturday morning, telemedicine is seeing an unprecedented demand as physicians see more patients remotely, according to industry executives.

The COO of Curogram — a HIPAA-compliant online platform that allows patients and doctors to text and meet through a “virtual online clinic” — says his team is “literally” working 20 hours a day amid the increased demand due to the pandemic.

“As you can imagine telemedicine a month ago was a niche market with minimal demand,” Curogram COO Michael Hsu told Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade on Friday. “And overnight it has become a need of every doctor in the country and the world.”

‘We have more than tripled our staff’

Meanwhile, demand for Doxy.me — a free, HIPAA-compliant, product that allows doctors and patients to video chat — has “increased a thousandfold,” according to its founder, Brandon Welch.

“We have more than tripled our staff in the last month,” Welch told Yahoo Finance, in order to meet the demand for doctors to have the “immediate ability” to see their patients remotely. 

More doctors may be seeing patients remotely for the foreseeable future. Image: Getty

Due to the contagion of the new virus, countries and cities around the world have implemented mandatory lockdowns, and more and more physicians — as well as psychotherapists — are seeing their patients remotely. The American Medical Association (AMA) has noted that remote health care — either through the phone, email, or other means — can play a major role in giving patients access to care during a pandemic.

Services like Doxy.me and Curogram allow medical professionals and therapists to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which protects patient privacy.

On Friday, President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that makes it easier for doctors to see patients remotely — in part by increasing telehealth coverage under Medicare, according to the AMA.

The American Telemedicine Association commended the bill for increasing access to remote medical care, saying it will provide “much-needed support to America’s health care providers who are migrating patients to virtual care platforms to reduce exposure to COVID-19.”

While telemedicine is particularly crucial during a viral outbreak, Curogram COO Michael Hsu contends the medical industry is seeing a “paradigm shift” with regards to telemedicine that could be long-lasting.

In the future, Hsu says we’ll see a “vast majority of doctors shifting maybe upwards of 25% to even 50% of their volume to telemedicine.” Amid an economic downturn that saw over 3 million jobless claims reported last week, his company is now hiring.

Brooke DiPalma is a producer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma.

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