The very nature of the healthcare industry makes constant change inevitable. With every new medicine comes a new virus, an eternal game of cat and mouse in which staying one step ahead of the other takes on a whole other level of importance. 2020 has brought this very close to home for millions around the world, and the microscope has never shone more intensely on the various technological developments helping to make the world a safer place.
Technology has long been used to help fight back against the biggest challenges in healthcare, but there is a lot more to this sector than in-hospital machinery and vaccines of the future. The infectious nature of COVID-19 has made even the simplest of visits to the doctor a potential health hazard, something that now rings true for both the patient and the physician. For the first time in a long time, we find ourselves in a situation where both doctor and patient are potentially at risk, increasing the need for remote and technology-based solutions.
A short history of the future
Telemedicine and remote consultations aren’t new. Even as far back as 1879, articles were appearing in The Lancet discussing the benefits of conducting check-ups via telephone, while journals in the 1920s were displaying images of patients getting vital medical information via radio. From the moment the telephone advanced from a connected form of communication to one with unlimited possibilities, its use in healthcare has been discussed, debated, and developed.
Fast forward to the present day and it has never been more vital. With millions of people around the world under lockdown and health workers at increased risk of infection, the healthcare industry has become increasingly focused on the need for an alternative to physical meetings. These unprecedented times have accelerated a change that had long been underway, and the new operational reality imposed by COVID-19 has forced many people on both sides of the conversation to embrace telemedicine and all its benefits.
More convenient consultations
The main advantage and benefit of consultation over the telephone is the convenience of it all. The development of apps for managing patients and the improvements in medical technology have allowed physicians to provide consultation over the telephone and the internet, meaning patients often don’t need to leave the comfort of their home in order to get care and advice.
The list of positives to this is seemingly endless. For one, the time spent in waiting rooms is eliminated, allowing patients to fit appointments into progressively busy lifestyles. Consultations increasingly take place over the phone or on FaceTime, Zoom, Google Meet and the rest, with growing trust in online communication allowing diagnoses and treatments to be advised without having to leave home. This is hugely important for patients of all ages and interests, from the immobile to the hyper-busy.
Removing the hassle of commuting to the clinic also helps mitigate the spread of infectious diseases. Doctors are able to assess symptoms, make diagnoses, recommend treatments, and prescribe medications without coming into physical contact with the patient, attenuating the spread of dangerous germs and viruses. The emergence of and damage caused by COVID-19 has made this increasingly important.
It isn’t just teleconsultation that has made things more convenient for patients and doctors alike. The emergence of Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) has opened up a world of clinical efficiency that simply wasn’t possible before the advent of modern medical innovations. Now it is possible for a patient’s entire medical history to be stored in a single place, available to physicians at the click of a button or the touch of a screen, data that can easily be moved to another clinician in a completely different location. This has simultaneously made it easier for doctors to see the whole picture and for chronically ill patients to receive a more complete diagnosis. For those who struggle with mobility, the growth of telemedicine has literally been a life-saving development.
Reducing the costs of care
Telemedicine also provides plenty of financial positives for both patient and physician. A 2018 study by The American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that avoiding the emergency room generated huge savings for patients, savings of anywhere between $309 and more than $1,500. The convenience of home-centric access to medical assistance has other obvious financial benefits, as individuals no longer need to make the journey to the hospital or clinic, saving on fuel and time in equal measure.
The financial benefits for clinics are also numerous. Remote analysis services have enabled fractional employment, allowing highly trained professionals to work as a pooled resource as opposed to wasted expertise in low-volume clinics. Telemedicine has brought new meaning to ‘quality over quantity’ in healthcare.
Patients not being required to visit the hospital physically also eases the financial burden of healthcare. The frequent monitoring of inpatients is one of the hidden costs of the industry, leaking valuable time and resources with little result. Moving the basic side of healthcare into the remote sector has alleviated this load and will continue to do so.
Telemedicine’s use of data analysis also has long term financial benefits. Patterns and problems can now be caught ahead of time, allowing clinicians to take the correct course of action and help the patient to avoid chronic diseases. The increased accuracy of online monitoring means issues can be flagged before they become financially and physically draining for all involved.
HTEC at the forefront of innovation
Here at HTEC, we have been involved in a number of innovations and developments helping to bring healthcare to the homes of those who need it most, covering everything from maternity care to the current COVID-19 crisis.
An HTEC-developed tool for telemedicine care of patients suffering from cardiac issues, Humeds Cardia-3 is a revolutionary solution that combines AI and IoT to provide real-time ECG signal acquisition, monitoring, and sharing, as well as a comprehensive diagnostic system based on advanced built-in algorithms. It enables doctors to respond quickly to potentially life-threatening situations or boost recovery.
Testing for the latter has been a major stumbling block to reducing the spread of the disease, but the pressure has been alleviated somewhat by the creation of rapid testing solutions such as PocDoc. Launched by British digital healthcare company Vital Signs Solutions, the test utilizes finger-prick testing and an accompanying app to provide a 98% accurate result within 10 minutes, all for just £10. Convenient, affordable, and accurate, PocDoc has offered people a remote solution to a very real issue.
One of the major stumbling blocks of telemedicine has been making it more accessible to older members of society, to those less likely to be up to date and confident when using the many different forms of modern technology. HTEC partner Aloe Care Health has worked to bridge that gap, creating the world’s most advanced medical alert system, utilized by both users and caregivers. The hub is voice-activated and does not require WiFi, removing a frequent barrier to the efficient rendering of remote healthcare.
Odonata Health is a particularly inventive creation, employing Artificial Intelligence and stylish textiles to produce a wearable tool that monitors real-time statistics of women during pregnancy, allowing women, healthcare partners, and medical personnel to provide the exact care required by the fetus throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery. The US is one of a small number of countries in the world where maternal mortality rates are actually increasing, and Odonata Health is on the frontline working to right that wrong.
It goes without saying that telemedicine is here to say. The 21st century so far has been defined by innovation and modernization, and we live in a world where technology permeates almost every waking moment of the day. Healthcare is in a unique position where it can take complete advantage of this, righting historical wrongs and making medical care a more efficient and complete process for all.
Telemedicine is far from perfect. Many patients still prefer the personal touch of an in-person visit, while others remain apprehensive of committing to online care, fearful of fraud and financial complications, not to mention the difficulty of providing clear and concise care to people living in rural areas where connectivity is difficult.
There are inherent limitations to telemedicine that will be ironed out over time, but the potential benefits to quality of care are clear for all to see, be they physical, mental, emotional, or financial. Telemedicine is the future, and the future is now.