“I stepped up and said I would help anyway I can.”

Dr. Luis Saldana practiced emergency medicine in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area for 30 years at two large urban hospitals and trauma centers. The now retired doctor lives in Dallas and has been out of the “young man’s game,” as he calls it, for about eight years. 

When Texas recently called for retired doctors to step up and volunteer to help treat COVID-19 patients, Saldana didn’t hesitate. He was one of the first to sign up and is ready to go once he’s needed. 

“I stepped up and said I would help anyway I can,” Saldana said. “I wanted to be an available resource for a potential surge in patients and to make sure we have enough resources available.” 

Saldana still holds an active medical license, but for the last several years he’s been working on independent projects with health technology vendors and other health systems.

When the pandemic hit Texas, the biggest concern was overloading the healthcare system, like what we’ve seen in hotspots like New York. Saldana says stress on the system leads to higher death rates.

So he and his fellow retired-physicians began devising a plan to prepare and implement surge protection. Part of that plan involves using telemedicine to evaluate and treat patients.

Telemedicine, in general, Saldana says, is well suited to infectious disease crises because there’s separation between the patient and clinical resources, which in turn lowers the risk of the virus’s transmission.

“During screening and triage, you also don’t have to put on the personal protective equipment (PPE) which helps conserve those resources,” he said. “Using iPad technology, doctors can check-in on patients in the ICU and even non-critical patients, including monitoring their oxygen levels and temperatures.”

Texas and several other states recently eased telemedicine regulations to allow for mass use during the pandemic. For example, technology requirements for telemedicine are normally stringent in order to protect patient privacy. But now, doctors are allowed to use FaceTime and Zoom to treat patients remotely.  Since telemedicine has proven to be so important during this pandemic, many states are considering keeping the new regulations that allow for greater use, after the pandemic ends.  There is also discussion of allowing doctors to practice telemedicine across state lines, which isn’t currently allowed.

“The current system puts barriers in the way of underserved patients getting care; from prescription refills, to chronic disease management, and even mental health issues,” he said. “For telemedicine, we need to have that single license. I think you’ll see that discussed post-COVID.”

Still, Saldana cautions that part of that post-COVID discussion must include ensuring the security and privacy of patients through encrypted technology systems.

He believes this crisis will serve as a learning lesson for the future of medicine. And, hopes one of the biggest takeaways involves leveraging the pool of retired healthcare providers going forward. 

“We have potentially untapped resources of retired physicians,” he said. “We can’t just walk away from this and go back to what we did before. We must leverage their skills to help make the healthcare system more robust and resistant to future crises.”

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