COVID-19: Indo-American official leading US telemedicine push

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COVID-19: Indo-American official leading US telemedicine push

A top Indian American official, Seema Verma, is leading a push for a path-breaking telemedicine initiative using laptops and phones and apps like Skype to ease the burden of growing novel coronavirus cases and the threat of infections.

The telemedicine initiative covering 62 million seniors is a “swift and bold action” for them to get help without having to go to their doctor and expose themselves to the coronavirus, said Verma, who is the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), on Tuesday at a briefing with US President Donald Trump.

Also, “clinicians on the frontlines will now have greater flexibility to safely treat our beneficiaries,” she said.

Officials around the country are discouraging people, especially the elderly, from travelling even within cities because of threats of exposure to the virus. The Silcon Valley is under a semi-lockdown, which New York is considering for the city.

Under the telehealth programme she unveiled, patients can consult their doctors or other medical professionals in real-time using devices like computers, laptops, pads, smartphones and phones and apps like Skype for routine consultations on, for example, diabetes or to determine if their health condition requires them to be tested for COVID-19, she said.

“It helps us prevent the spread of the virus,” Verma said.

She asked relatives or neighbours of patients to help them with telehealth communications if they cannot themselves use it or don’t have the equipment.

“If it’s your mom, you may need to go over to her house to help her,” she said.

The programme she unveiled expands a very limited telemedicine programme that was being tried. Verma heads the federal government’s two separate insurance programmes, the paid Medicare programme for seniors covering 62 million people, and the free Medicare for the poor with 71 million.

As a member of the Coronavirus Task Force headed by US Vice President Mike Pence, she appears alongside Trump in the nationally televised daily briefings on the coronavirus pandemic. She is one of the most influential officials in Trump’s administration overseeing healthcare for 133 million people, about 40 per cent of the US population.

Verma had worked closely with Pence when he was Governor of Indiana state on reshaping healthcare. Before joining the administration she has headed a healthcare company, SVC Inc., that provided consultancy to state government.