In the post-Covid world telehealth has grown faster than ever and at a rate that was unexpected until last year. The dramatic rise is far from over. With a scarcity of hospital beds, medical equipment and personnel during the pandemic, the healthcare community has had to improvise and innovate like never before. With all traditional ways of providing healthcare either over-stretched or inaccessible the world over, telehealth seems to be the only viable and logical solution in the foreseeable future.
Social distancing is the new normal and under these circumstances telehealth has been able to substitute in-person clinics with the use of video conferencing, thus replacing traditional doctor visits. Patient and doctor communication via digital means, whether instantaneous or planned will form the backbone of the healthcare system in the coming years. Virtual visits and remote patient monitoring (RPM) will soon become a must for all healthcare providers if they want to keep up with the fast changing requirements.
Even when Covid-19 is behind us (hopefully soon), the telehealth space is bound to be changed forever especially for the vendors who can scale up to the new standards. This would mean investing in sensors, robotics, remote diagnostic equipment as well as Interactive Virtual Assistants (IVAs). The ability to use big data analytics and AI too will be essential in both delivery of impactful telehealth solutions and in tracking the progression of Covid-19. Alongside all the benefits, it will become more and more important that cybersecurity and privacy regulations be stringently put in place so that there are no data breaches when using telehealth solutions.
Consultation is only one aspect of telehealth. From AI chatbots to predictive analytics, monitoring ICUs and patients’ residences remotely to sending alerts, reminders and information, the possibilities of telehealth are limitless.
According to the World Economic Forum, many countries have taken the lead in adoption of telehealth on a large scale. Countries like the US had a head-start and have mature systems in place. Countries like Australia have expanded subsidies to cover the remote treatment of patients by video or telephone. It has also allowed clinical staff who have been exposed to the virus and those under quarantine, to continue working via telehealth.
In hospitals, automating checks of vital systems frees up the nurse’s time so they can pay attention to other important tasks. At home when managing chronic diseases, patients can be reminded to take care of their medications and their vital sign measurements, such as blood pressure, which can then be automatically transmitted to a healthcare provider. With regular monitoring and built in clinical alerts, doctors and nurses are typically able to help more patients in the same amount of time.
Telehealth is also known to improve clinical outcomes. Embedded care protocols ensure that medical staff do not miss any significant trends in the patient’s condition, especially in case the changes are too minute, or because the overburdened staff slips-up. Pre-Covid-19, studies have shown that ICU patients who were tele monitored showed 26% reduction in death rate, 30% reduction in length of their stay in the ICU, and were discharged home 15% faster.
Use of telehealth solutions during this pandemic can help slow the transmission of the disease by keeping at-risk people away from hospitals and waiting rooms, while at the same time allowing for patients who are not infected to get care. Doctors and nurses are in the frontlines of the battle against Covid-19. Telehealth protects healthcare workers by limiting physical contact with an infected person. In cases where Covid-19 is suspected or where the symptoms are minor, remote monitoring can provide support thus freeing up beds in hospitals for serious cases. In remote parts of the world where access to healthcare is limited or simply not there, telehealth can provide low-cost and effective support to patients.
Telehealth is broadening the horizons of patient care at a time when all traditional means of healthcare are taking a beating due to the pandemic. With the right training, monitoring and protection, telehealth can be the most significant leap in healthcare around the world.