7 Ways Telemedicine Is Transforming Healthcare
We are moving deeper into a digitalized world (and in the case of COVID-19, this is now a very apparent reality). There are so many innovative developments to think about - from artificial intelligence to robotics to smartphones and wearable technology. With mobile e-commerce, you can buy almost anything with your smartphone and have it shipped right to you. Similarly, with telemedicine, you can schedule a doctor’s appointment and consult with your physician from the comfort of your own home.
How Does Telemedicine Work?
Adapting technology into the healthcare field is something we’re seeing more and more (finally!). So, how does telemedicine work? It’s a way of connecting with your physician through your smartphone to discuss your everyday health concerns without going into a clinic. Often with 24/7 access to a healthcare expert in virtually any industry, telemedicine is growing into a patient preferred way to be treated for a variety of healthcare needs. Telemedicine can service patients’ acute needs -- rashes, allergies, poison ivy, and sore throat -- as well as their chronic ones -- diabetes, asthma, and mental health -- quickly and conveniently.
Telemedicine in 2020
“Telemedicine has been around us for more than 40 years. Back then, it had been used only to transmit images, videos, and other complex medical data. But in the last 5 years, it’s been growing in all health and IT sectors,” says Jonathan Linkous, the head of American Telemedicine Association. But in 2020, it’s going to change the way we approach the medical industry. But how?
1. Millennial demand
Millennials, alone, make up 73 million of the US population. Millennials are not huge fans of the way healthcare has existed up to now. They tend to look for healthcare systems with faster responses that leverage more novel technology to improve treatment speed and efficacy. This includes self-service portals, online appointment scheduling, and telemedicine as replacements for more traditional methods. They view technology in healthcare as a standard and expected part of the medical system.
Survey results affirm the above with the following statistics:
- 74% of Millennials prefer a telemedicine approach than a traditional visit to an in-person appointment
- 71% of patients want to be able to schedule their appointment through a mobile application
- 26% would switch PCPs for video visits
- 75% that have used telehealth technologies rated it as superior to a traditional clinic visit
2. Insurance support
As telemedicine services become more widely used among all generations, insurance companies are taking more actions to cover telemedicine expenses. Furthermore, as of October 2019, at least 42 US states have statues in place that require insurance companies to cover a certain amount of telemedicine services.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published its "final rule for 2020," describing its updates on reimbursement codes for telemedicine services. For now, Medicare reimburses for live telemedicine services (real-time video call) only.
3. Softening the nursing shortage
Apart from nurse burnout, telehealth services can help assuage the current and future nursing shortage. With more than half a million RNs predicted to retire by the year 2022, telemedicine could help to ease this drop-off of on-site personnel by allowing physicians and even nurses in different locations to provide medical support to patients without them having to go to stress the resources at a physical facility. Telehealth nursing positions are growing more nowadays as they develop into a more common part of the care continuum.
4. Demand for artificial intelligence
The evolution of artificial intelligence in the healthcare industry and the automation of EHRs is furthering the demand for telehealth capabilities. Nearly 86% of people who use fitness, wellness, and health technologies are already making sufficient use of artificial intelligence, so why stop there? For example, IBM Watson Health is now using AI for recommending treatment plans to cancer patients.
Another example, FDNA, is a growing company focusing on AI-based phenotyping to detect solutions for remote analysis of a patient’s genomic data through the utilization of facial recognition. When AI is combined with telemedicine, it becomes a powerful tool for remote healthcare services and experimentation.
5. Better telemedicine training
There are now even online nursing programs that are available to working nurses to pursue further education, flexibly, in their free time. For example, AI-driven simulation labs allow them to practice better patient care segments as well as train them to handle complicated medical situations before actually dealing with them. As they continue on in their in-person practice, these digital technologies will help shape their future interaction with technology and medicine.
6. Development of better healthcare apps
Just like any other industry, mobile apps have a significant role in the digitalization of the healthcare industry. Since healthcare deals with sensitive patient data, the industry has been more cautious to adopt more progressive IT solutions into their complex data systems. However, once more governmental bodies and other larger organizations began incorporating new technologies into their routines, it's no wonder that the development of more healthcare apps has been rising so rapidly. Here are just a few examples:
- eSkin Sleep and Lounge - A Tokyo based company called Xenoma has developed an innovative wearable pajama set called eSkin Sleep and Lounge to track your sleep pattern, heart rate, breathing, and other vital signs. This washable technology is best suited for older people, as it can even set off an alarm if it detects that you've tripped or fallen.
- Atmos Faceware - a stylish air filter that goes across the face, covering your mouth and nose, claiming that it can provide up to 50 times more clean air quality than typical face masks available on the market. It comes with the ability to track and analyze the wearer's breathing.
- Owlet Monitor Duo - Owlet's baby monitor duo is a monitor device that provides additional features along with its basic hear, see, and know functionalities that help you to track your infant's heart rate and oxygen levels.
7. Flexible opportunities for nurses and other healthcare professionals
Nurses will have more remote nursing job opportunities. We all know the traditional nursing roles, but over the last several years (and particularly during this pandemic), a growing opportunity has emerged for registered nurses to perform their skills in new and unexpected environments, including their own homes or even their next travel destination.
5G will transform the healthcare industry
Almost every mobile phone company is running towards the "5G change," the “next step” of mobile internet. The 5G upgrade is expected to provide faster data transferring with little or no latency. This will improve live communication between a physician and patient. Most of all, surgeons who are performing complex operations using AI from across the country can stop worrying, knowing that internet delay will not cause issues.
Virtual healthcare will become an essential skill for medical practitioners
As per various surveys, by the end of 2020 and 2025, China, India, and the US will face a massive healthcare personnel shortage of 1 million, 2.5 million, and 3.9 million, respectively. Virtual healthcare systems will be a helpful method to liberate doctors and skilled nurses from the constraints of the clinic-centric model and allow them to work from a greater variety of locations.
People with chronic disease will seek out more virtual care
It's a fact that one in three adults are suffering from one or more chronic conditions, and 44% among them have opted out of proper care due to high expenses. Upwards of 72% of chronically diseased patients are likely to choose virtual care for the monitoring of their conditions, and this number is already increasing.
Advantages of Telemedicine
A lot of surveys and data on healthcare services have clearly illustrated that the quality of health care delivered through telecommunication could challenge traditional doctor-patient interactions. About 76% of patients care more about the introduction of AI into healthcare services than a reliance on human interaction.
In fact, in certain situations -- such as an urgent emergency situation where the patient could not be immediately moved to a physical care facility -- telemedicine has been shown to facilitate outstanding care with positive outcomes and higher patient satisfaction.
Telehealth services make it easy for patients to consult with their physicians from virtually anywhere. From a secure chat or video environment, patients can connect with their preferred PCPs at a location and time that works best for them.
Telemedicine can act as a life savior to patients living in rural areas with limited access to transportation or health services. Even patients in urban environments may find public transportation as inaccessible; telemedicine helps older or less mobile patients receive their care they need, and more independently at that!
Cost savings for patients
Telemedicine services have been shown to reduce patients’ healthcare costs by reduced travel time to a clinic, little or no hospital stays, and overall improved management of chronic diseases.
Instead of patients traveling to a particular healthcare facility and waiting for their appointment, telemedicine enables them to get the care they need, right when they need it. Different health problems require different approaches, but a rash or sore throat can be easily handled by telemedicine.
Expanded patient base
When patients can access their healthcare team from the comfort of their home, they will mostly likely prefer to maintain this type of care. Doctors and nurses can take advantage of this by expanding their virtual healthcare base as well as strengthening their ongoing relationship with existing patients through more frequent interaction.
Disadvantages of Telemedicine
A live video call or chat may not provide a full view of the illness in question. When a physician can't examine a patient firsthand, there is a potential chance to miss minor signs and symptoms, which can lead to incomplete or inaccurate results.
Complicated policies and rules
The telehealth industry is growing fast, and policies and reimbursement rules associated with the industry are still developing. Even though significant conclusions regarding telehealth reimbursements were made a couple of months back, the policies and rules still remain as a challenge for healthcare providers who are interested in adopting telemedicine practices.
Electronic and internet glitches
Given that the entire telehealth process is contingent upon technology working properly, you may want to think about all the other obstacles you might face during interactions with patients: poor internet connection, outdated software, bad weather, or even loss of power (on either end).
Lack of Physicians
Not every practitioner (or every specialty, for that matter) will be interested in integrating with telehealth practices. So, keep it mind that ready access to all of your care providers may never be the reality.
With advancing healthcare systems also comes further concerns for the protection of sensitive data. There are a variety of security concerns on the side of patient data as well as that of the facility or provider themselves. Hackers and other security concerns may pose an increasing threat to the privacy of sensitive data and information.
So, will in-person primary care always be the norm? It’s very likely; but, it doesn’t mean that you should give telemedicine a try, either as a patient or a provider. Especially when circumstances change, as in the case of COVID-19, and parties on both sides are forced to adapt.