Texas Department of Health used video visits to monitor TB patients in the aftermath of Harvey

Rescue workers help woman into truck amid floodwaters
Using telehealth, state officials were able to keep tabs on tuberculosis patients displaced by the Hurricane Harvey. (U.S. Dept. of Defense)

Directly observing tuberculosis patients taking the required medication is a critical element of controlling the disease—a difficult task during a natural disaster.

Using lessons learned from previous disasters like Hurricane Katrina, officials with the Texas Department of State Health Services used video visits to care for TB patients in aftermath of Hurricane Harvey that dumped more than 60 inches of rain in some parts of Texas.

RELATED: In Texas, Hurricane Harvey response efforts provide a ‘defining moment’ for telehealth

Of the 282 people identified as high-priority TB cases, 59 were successfully managed through video-enabled visits on a smartphone, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Each year, the upcoming hurricane season provides opportunities to develop, test, and implement preparedness plans for continuity of patient care,” the health officials wrote. “During Hurricane Harvey, the high proportion of patients successfully managed through video-enabled [directly observed therapy] demonstrates that video-enabled DOT can help ensure TB treatment completion when regular treatment options have been disrupted by a major storm or other disasters.”

Telehealth was a notable component of hurricane response efforts that some called a “defining moment” for the industry. A number of direct-to-consumer telehealth companies alike Teladoc and American Well provided free telehealth visits to victims of Harvey. Meanwhile, Florida-based Nemours Children’s Hospital provided support through its CareConnect platform thanks to recently passed legislation in Texas that allowed physicians to treat patients via video conferencing without a prior in-person visit coupled with the governor’s decision to temporarily suspend physician licensure requirements.