The Rise of TeleMedicine
A recent McKinsey study found that physicians now see up to 175 times more patients using virtual interfaces (like telehealth and telemedicine) than they did before the pandemic. And according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees “the health and well-being of all Americans,” telehealth and telemedicine use has increased by nearly 50% between January and June of 2020, after the appearance and spread of COVID-19. As more and more people are seeking ways to reduce risk factors of COVID transmission while continuing to receive routine and preventative medical care, similar trends have been seen in Europe and across the world.
As HHS defines telemedicine as any system which uses “electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care,” this trend has created opportunities for technology designers, and the web and software development industry, which is uniquely situated to create ideal solutions for broadening healthcare coverage using advances in remote technology.
What Kind of Telehealth Exists Already?
Despite often being used interchangeably, telehealth and telemedicine are not the same things. Telehealth is any mobile service that helps people engage in their healthcare. This can include informative mobile apps or tools, educational resources available online, or images shared remotely for diagnostic purposes (X-rays, CT scans, etc). Telemedicine, on the other hand, is when a patient seeks medical care or treatment remotely by a doctor or specialist.
Each of these categories can work together but each serves a different purpose, has different needs, and requires different technological solutions. Some types of telemedicine and telehealth that have become more prevalent with the appearance of COVID-19 are as follows:
- Patient Portal: This secure online communication hub can provide access points for patients and doctors to contact each other as well as provide patient-directed storage of important medical information, which, when shared across a network of medical professionals, can help improve the quality and consistency of care. Security, data storage, and UX/UI capabilities are important in developing new technology for patient portals.
- Virtual Appointments: This is the bread and butter of telemedicine. As before and during COVID, virtual appointments allow patients to interface with doctors via teleconference, video, or voice, to discuss routine medical matters, small, or urgent but non-life-threatening medical issues. This kind of routine care is especially important during the pandemic, but can be just as important during future flu seasons in 2020 and after. Technological trends of importance in virtual appointments are interactivity, video technology, and computer-driven decision-making models.
- Remote Monitoring: These technologies (apps, portals, surveys, wearables) allow an off-site medical team to keep track of the health and vital signs of a patient who is not in the hospital or available for constant in-person monitoring. This technology can be especially helpful with older patients, patients living in rural or remote areas, or patients living “regular” lives but who need, for whatever reason, to have aspects of their health more closely monitored. Further development is needed to explore wearable efficiency and comfort, app syncing between wearables and transmission, and storage of data from off-site to medical practitioners.
- Doctor Conferencing: Patients aren’t the only ones who can benefit directly from telemedicine and telehealth. Medical technology has also greatly improved the ability of doctors around the world to confer with, learn from, and work with each other. This is especially important for patients with complex cases or rare diseases, and for doctors who work in specialties with few practitioners. When complex care is required, technology can create an easy bridge between a primary physician and others in specialized fields, where sharing of x-rays, scans, medical history, and complication questions can be as easy as sending an email.
- Personal Health Records (PHR): Like (or with) a patient portal, a PHR hub, app, or database can be accessible to a patient or their medical team from anywhere through a variety of access points, keeping doctors informed and patients safe in case of an accident, emergency, or medical complication. Using a tablet, smartphone, standalone wearable device, or synced connection, a PHR can mean the difference between doctors making guesses or providing informed care.
What’s Next for Telehealth?
Any web-based technology or app which supports people seeking or receiving medical care can be considered telehealth, though, with the influx of use of these services with COVID, it’s unclear what more opportunities exist. With the ingenuity and inventiveness for which the tech industry is so famous, the potential is great for innovation. And whatever innovation comes, remote developers and off-site teams--already positioned outside of population centers and adept at using distance technology to create the very solutions they use every day--are uniquely positioned to lead this charge.
InTouchHealth.com reports that the telehealth industry “is expected to grow exponentially over the next eight years, reaching $32.71 billion by 2027.” Much of this growth will be fueled by the ways database technology, cybersecurity, and access to mobile technology advances to make fast, reliable, and safe telehealth services available to people all over the world--and not just in the highly developed, wealthy countries like the US and Europe.
Whether companies in the Med Tech space, or in corollary industries, step up to the plate now may influence the health outcomes for billions of people. As we’ve learned during COVID, having access to a doctor in the early stages of an illness--whether that doctor is seen on camera or live in-person--can have a profound effect on the prognosis of an illness and help avoid any potential pitfalls of treatment.
Now is the time for telehealth innovation, and today’s developers are the ones who we’re looking at to see such innovation come to life. Is your team ready to lead the charge?
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