Andrey Koptelov is Technology Observer at Itransition.
The pandemic has caused a massive rise in the implementation of telehealth technologies: Frost & Sullivan reports that in 2020 these technologies skyrocketed by 64% in the US alone. But what’s next?
According to Statista, the use of this tech will reduce by 40% with the pandemic going down. So is it that providers deploying telehealth solutions are making a poor investment? Not really. Telehealth solutions have the potential to prosper after the pandemic, too.
Telehealth technologies comprise remote patient monitoring apps, telemedicine software, mHealth tools, and diverse sensors. They all may be used to streamline care delivery, provide the needed therapies for chronic condition patients, and more. We’ll look into some potential applications of telehealth software below.
Through telehealth visits and remote patient monitoring, providers can deliver quality care without any exposure risks for clinicians or their patients. Besides, they can avoid hospital overcrowding by hospitalizing only patients with acute symptoms and letting others get well at home with continuous monitoring and regular virtual appointments. In the present turbulent times, many providers went for these practices.
What’s more, RPM software may be critical for vulnerable populations, as it notifies providers, caregivers, and family members about sudden spikes or drops in measured parameters. This way, providers may take timely actions and save lives.
Telehealth technologies may help providers bring paramedicine to a new level. As a rule, EMS patients need not only a paramedic but a doctor of a narrower specialty, and this is where teleparamedicine steps in. Paramedics connect with their colleagues (cardiologists, neurologists, and others) to find out which treatment fits the patient most. This fosters immediate care provision, which in some cases may save a patient’s life or prevent a disability.
Connecting with their colleagues via a telemedicine tool, paramedics can get help when evaluating a patient’s condition. This in turn may help them decide on the exact destination, which allows them to lower the cost and avoid unnecessary transportation for a swifter care provision.
Telemedicine may also help with abusive EMS line phone calls. Some persistent patients may dial the line dozens of times in a row, which distracts the operator. Though telemedicine doesn’t cut off such patients automatically, it does allow providers to triage patients faster and diagnose a non-emergency situation.
For some patient populations, telehealth enhanced with AR & VR has become a life-changing experience and a part of day-to-day therapy. This is true for patients suffering from diverse chronic conditions, such as neurological and mental ones.
AR glasses help visually impaired patients to safely navigate their homes, and not only that. AR for VIP, a Berkeley University project, employs AR glasses to assist visually impaired users with moving in unfamiliar outdoor settings. AR glasses make surrounding obstacles audible so that visually impaired people can move around independently, without any assistance.
VR telemedicine may make part of successful therapies for patients suffering from chronic pain, stress, memory decline, and other conditions. This is what XRHealth, a VR telehealth clinic, helps with. With VR glasses on, patients may enter diverse virtual environments to get a professional consultation or just some management insights from fellow patients in support groups.
Improved Post-Discharge Care and Better Outcomes
Telehealth technology may also help providers reduce costs by lowering readmission rates. Though the common scenario with a home nurse regularly visiting patients after the discharge still stands, digital solutions may be more efficient.
Firstly, a patient may develop symptoms at any time. With a telehealth system (an RPM tool coupled with a telemedicine solution) in place, a patient can connect with their doctor right away and report the symptom for the clinician’s consideration and timely decision-making.
Secondly, an RPM tool may actually outdo a human health worker in monitoring the adherence to the treatment plan. For example, Proteus, an ingestible sensor used in a tuberculosis care and management system, proved more efficient in tracking treatment adherence than clinicians with an accuracy ratio of 93% to 63% respectively.
Inviting clinicians to virtual visits can assist providers with understanding patients’ recovery process and thus facilitating it.
A New Spin on Clinical Trials
In the present epidemiological situation, medical and pharmaceutical research is going through a hard time. Many trials have been canceled or put on hold. So logically, medical researchers started to look for viable alternatives permitting to conduct research with reduced in-person visits.
Luckily, telehealth technologies can assist in this regard. With the recent HIPAA waivers, researchers no longer need to deploy a specific telemedicine tool; common messengers will do, provided that they are not public-facing. Moreover, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has provided a list of messengers that are HIPAA-compliant by default. The list includes a range of popular messengers, e.g. Skype for Business.
Going for virtual and hybrid trial implementation has two important benefits. First, it may help reduce trial participants’ churn, a pain point for many clinical trials. Second, by allowing patients to participate in trials from the comfort of their homes, researchers may improve patient experience and adherence. With these two benefits at play, clinical trials are unlikely to return to exclusively traditional implementation methods with regular site visits.
As we can see, telehealth technologies are not only about secure video chats. They integrate successfully into clinical processes and help streamline care delivery and emergency care, improve the quality of life for some groups of patients, and more. Telehealth solutions help reach one of the key healthcare goals — which is improving the population’s quality of life. Considering this, it’s unlikely that these technologies will lose relevance anytime soon.