It’s clear the COVID-19 pandemic will go down as a major disruptive force in almost industry around the globe. More so, in the healthcare system, it has been a major precursor to the adoption of telehealth worldwide.
Telemedicine dates back to the mid 20th century when doctors provided care to critically injured soldiers virtually. Fast-forward to 2020, and telehealth is proving to be a source of hope if our health services are to survive the COVID pandemic.
The virus outbreak has forced countries to take rapid measures such as quarantine, social distancing, and the use of expensive PPEs among health providers to curb the spread of the virus. But these measures also mean that patients with other illnesses are finding it difficult to access health services, while health facilities are being stretched financially.
In this post, we take a look at how European countries and the US are adopting telehealth as an effective healthcare alternative to in-person visits during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as what we think the future holds for telehealth in the next 5 years.
The response towards providing solutions for coronavirus has been rapid. This rapid progress in innovation is a result of the pressure on the industry, as well as desperation caused by the pandemic.
For instance, the pandemic forced Spain to shift to video consultations in just two weeks. This was after the country recorded an upsurge of new infections and deaths in June. Such an increase in the use of virtual care has been reported throughout the world.
CIOs of the leading facilities have been surprised by how digital technologies are reshaping healthcare delivery as they address the COVID-19 crisis. With some healthcare providers recording over a 500% increase in telehealth visits, this seems to be the new opportunity arising from the crisis.
The increase in demand for telemedicine has seen health IT experts fast-track major projects in multiple fronts. From nursing homes to clinics to hospitals, IT teams are working overtime to set up telehealth infrastructure that can solve most of the problems resulting from the pandemic.
This infrastructure is geared towards reducing person-to-person contact and preventing health facilities’ resources from being stretched. Some of the innovations leading to the increased virtual care capacity revolve about:The increase in demand for telemedicine has seen health IT experts fast-track major projects in multiple fronts. From nursing homes to clinics to hospitals, IT teams are working overtime to set up telehealth infrastructure that can solve most of the problems resulting from the pandemic.
We have already seen a lot of innovative new tech coming to life even as the pre-existing ones continue to prove helpful and receive more acceptance from the mainstream. For instance, e-ICU and Intensive Ambulatory Care (IAC) have long helped health facilities in monitoring patients with chronic diseases hence reducing hospitalization rates and healthcare costs.
However, experts and the general public alike agree that we still have a long way to go in integrating new telehealth strategies. Why?
Among the major concerns causing the reluctance to adopt telehealth are limited reimbursement policies by insurance providers, digital illiteracy, resistance to change (by both health providers and patients), and a lack of secure methods for transmission of health records leading to mistrust of telehealth services.
This can be attributed to a lack of good policies governing the consumption of telehealth services both at national and regional levels in most countries. For instance, countries such as Ireland and Czech Republic only started taking teleconsultation seriously after the pandemic. Therefore, the legislative platform on telehealth services is still lagging behind.
Besides, a lack of training in telehealth facilities is likely to increase privacy and security breaches, result in legal issues, and impact insurance reimbursements.
What’s more, regular upgrades of telehealth technology mean that most state-of-the-art software and hardware solutions are becoming obsolete quite fast. Introducing the newer technology puts a lot of strain on healthcare budgets.
Some of the telehealth strategies that can be implemented to overcome these challenges are:
This may involve marketing new telehealth service programs through social media or video ads, as well as educating patients on how to comfortably use the new technologies. Besides, healthcare providers can advise their patients on the related issues too.
What’s more, in the European Union (EU), healthcare professionals find it difficult to offer cross-border application of telehealth services due to different regulations in neighboring countries.
Some of the healthcare system barriers can be overcome through:
For instance, Spain has implemented a strategy involving the establishment of online systems that link all their data, including test results, helpline data, and contact tracing data. The information that must be brought together includes case summaries, hospitalization records, doctors’ points of view, test results. To collect and analyze them, a single source of truth is needed. One example could be a data lake.
This way, any health provider can easily retrieve the patient’s records allowing for care continuity.
Training. Both health professionals and the public will require additional training. One ideal solution is the integration of telehealth technologies into service training. This could be through practical training in medical schools, as well as additional training courses in telehealth for general practitioners.
Since health providers are in direct contact with patients, they can easily help convince the latter to adopt telehealth solutions.
Besides, standard telehealth training courses will ensure all parties involved in implementing telehealth technology are aware of telehealth best practices. This will improve patient awareness and trust in virtual care.
Digital infrastructure. Nearly everyone today is armed with the necessary tools like smartphones and computers. These devices are key to digital readiness. Modern digital technology will help in quick communication between health providers and patients while also reducing the initial cost.
Some of the solutions to overcome these infrastructure barriers include:
The ideal infrastructure should perform optimally and be easily accessible to the user. However, there is still an issue of purchasing robust, secure platforms for scheduling and facilitating appointments, as well as processing, storing, and linking data. Luckily, the overall cost can be reduced with the help of shared platforms.
The two largest groups that will be using telemedicine daily are patients and medical professionals. Involving patients throughout the design process will guarantee straightforward systems based on the users’ needs, hence improving the technology’s rate of adoption.
Among the solutions already in place is the Participatory Design (PD) methodology. It involves four major phases, including:
PD is an interactive approach that can be achieved through cultural probes, questionnaires, and problem-solving tasks.
Some ways to involve health providers and patients in the use of new telehealth technologies include:
However, PD has its fair share of challenges, including:
What’s more, with the ongoing pandemic, the interaction will most likely have to be virtual, which might still prove a problem when dealing with populations that have yet to benefit from digital inclusion. This brings us to the next point.Test
Digital inclusion efforts must be cranked up to ensure as many people as possible from all over the world are catered for.
Lastly, simple phone calls and messaging will have to be a key form of communication between patients and healthcare providers, especially during the early adoption phases.
Experts have always stood for telemedicine but only now, we are seeing its true impact in real life. There lies a number of opportunities in the future if we choose to embrace this new path.
The ongoing pandemic has affected multiple facets of the global economy. It’s shameful that this is what it took for us to readily collaborate for the sake of a better healthcare system. That being said, telemedicine was always the inevitable future of healthcare. And its benefits are evident now more than ever.
Companies looking to invest in telemedicine or invent new solutions must remember to involve healthcare professionals and patients. Intuitive platforms that are secure and functional will be easier to deploy and more readily accepted.
Besides, electronic documentation technologies such as electronic health records (EHR), electronic medical record (EMR) and point of care (POC) are streamlining most of the difficulties facing telehealth adoption regarding data sharing and privacy.
Such technologies will allow for easier interaction between patients and healthcare providers which is key to the implementation of telehealth as discussed in HIMSS conference on telehealth.
Learn more about our telemedicine data expertise.
The Big Unlock, John M. Kravitz, Chief Information Officer Geisinger Health System “We’ve seen a 500% increase in telehealth visits”
mHealthIntelligence, NYC Launches Telehealth Program in Hard-Hit Housing Developments
S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, SC Testing Data & Projections (COVID-19)
McKinsey & Company, Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality?
The Brookings Institution, Removing regulatory barriers to telehealth before and after COVID-19
Barton Associates, How Do Telehealth Laws and Regulations Vary By State?
National Center for Biotechnology Information, Telemedicine: The legal framework (or the lack of it) in Europe
European Hospital Verlags GmbH, COVID-19 pandemic boosts telemedicine in Spain
ResearchGate GmbH, Participatory design methods in telemedicine research
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