Introduction to Telehealth
With COVID-19 spreading like wildfire, we are left with a great dilemma on reducing its spread. The solution? Social distancing. This would likely reduce the spread through government imposed lockdowns. Yet, does it not make it difficult for an individual to receive certain services that require close interactions with other individuals, like doctors for example? But how is that possible since even doctors would be at the mercy of the lockdowns? The solution, therefore, is technology. And to be more specific, telehealth.
Today, hospitals are already using telehealth to improve access and fill gaps in care, provide services 24/7, provide services remotely, and expand access to medical specialists. It’s a smart way to utilize finite healthcare resources as demands for healthcare services increase. Telehealth enables a model of care that is omnipresent, seamless, more affordable, and integrated into the patient’s lives. In a world of demand-driven health care especially during times of such pandemics, telehealth becomes the patient’s first and most common point of access for remote emergency care requirements, specialty consulting, post-discharge management, medication trainings, behavioral health counseling, patient clinical trials, and more.
Areas where Telehealth is Expanding Access
One of the most common reasons hospitals use telehealth is to extend its access to specialty care for patients remotely. The market growth of telehealth services is accelerating at a CAGR of over 25% while the y-o-y growth rate for the year 2020 is said to be 24.11%. By increasing access and reorganizing expertise wherever necessary, telehealth can address discrepancies and result in improving health outcomes from pediatric health services to senior care to chronic care management and much more.
Few of the many use cases where telehealth has its dominance in today’s world are as follows:
- Patients can be prepared with home-monitoring frameworks that continuously record vital readings such as temperature, pulse rates, heartbeat patterns, blood pressure and glucose levels. The readings are logged into EHR and if any anomalies are registered, alarms are sent wirelessly over the internet to physicians.
- Healthcare organizations are making telemedicine consulting much easier to access with simple procedures for any common person. This helps them avoid the challenges in getting care services such as eligibility and social and cultural competencies, especially in the areas of oncology, ophthalmology, dentistry, dermatology and other specialties. For patients with diabetes, congestive heart ailments, and other chronic illnesses, this enables the remote fulfillment of medication review, patient counseling, and prescription verification. According to analysts at Forrester Research, the acceptance of telemedicine drifted into hyperdrive over the past months, with predictions that healthcare interactions might increase to a stunning 1 billion by the year’s end, .
- This can also be used for those with acute stroke by enabling access to the limited source of stroke neurologists and targeted use of therapies that help preserve brain functioning and save lives.
- Using telemedicine at community health clinics increased the number of patients with diabetes who received eye-related tests. A total of 94 percent were screened using telemedicine versus only 56 percent when referred out.
Luckily, hardware costs have gone down as manufacturers were able to recognize the economies of scale. Telehealth has extended its spread across the globe and deals have expanded that reduced equipment costs. Connectivity got to be more accessible and costs for communication services went down as well, hence reducing the overall cost of telehealth services.
Advancements in Telehealth with AI and ML
In a recent survey of 56 leading healthcare organizations conducted by a top Indian-origin IT provider, it was found that 86% of them have already adopted AI and propose to spend an average of $75 million on it by end of year 2020. The synergy of telehealth and AI allows us to develop applications that can further aid patients in the following areas:
- Intelligent Chatbot
- Patient Monitoring
- Clinical Decision Support System
An AI chatbot was offered to the Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Medical Center and Southside Hospital, Northwell, to help reduce “no-shows” for colonoscopies. It allows patients to interact with a medium that would answer their queries with text or email messages.
Current Health has created an AI-based solution that can remotely monitor patients. The AI algorithmic-based patient monitoring system will alert the required doctor or facility if the patient requires assistance. Moreover, AI combined with IoT solutions can help patients avoid readmission.
Clinical Decision Support System
"Between 12 to 18 million Americans every year will experience some sort of diagnostic error," said Paul Cerrato, a journalist and researcher. This staggering figure can be improved by combining healthcare with AI subsequently allowing patients to be diagnosed properly.
HCL’s involvement in providing Telehealth related services
Ever since the inception of the COVID-19 outbreak, many IT organizations have gone beyond their traditional responsibilities and functions to help the communities that has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This is helping to save the lives of many who are prone to such health ailments. One such innovative and promising solution for clinical trial program named “Decentralized Clinical Trial Solution” was introduced by HCL technologies in partnership with Medable Inc. to remotely enable human trials which come as the need of the hour. This offers end-to-end integrated solutions and services for direct-to-patient clinical trials. Patients who are screened for study participation are engaged via a secure and seamless mobile interface. The solution can be immediately deployed in scenarios such as:
- Helping pharma companies/CROs restart all in-flight clinical trials due to COVID-19 lockdowns remotely and in under 5 days.
- For clinical trials that are in the planning phase by leveraging the virtual services designed for and by the clinicians from the industry’s best service offerings.
- Quick patient screening, recruitment, and consent management in a global setting for one of the highly anticipated items in the market– COVID-19 vaccines.
- Pharma companies looking to implement enterprise-level virtual clinical trial platforms.
In conclusion, we see a wide range of care options with telehealth during a pandemic and also coming in the future. It may not be possible to anticipate the exact future of telehealth as there is an already established base fo telehealth services today. In fact, many solutions developed today are unstable to some degree due to the fast progression of telehealth innovation and other such advancements in healthcare. There may be a revelation within the immediate future that changes everything overnight. Having said that, with lockdowns and quarantines being the most commonly used words today, the safest of choices to enable healthcare services to patients can certainly be delivered through the conventional methods of telehealth.