Digitized Healthcare is Inevitable

And, there is no more time to wait

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

In early 2020, the world we once knew changed. COVID-19 sucker-punched and impacted almost everyone in one way or another. The pandemic quickly spread to 6 continents with a death toll exceeding 480,000 people globally so far. The major fear, capacity of our healthcare systems, is still a concern today. Since this disease is considered new and, most importantly, very dangerous, developing the proper vaccine could take years. Increasing awareness about personal protective equipment failed to stop the spread, but we did see some satisfactory results — social distancing.

Over seven and a half billion people around the world had to settle into what we all call nowadays,’ the new normal.’ Working from home, trying to live normally with masks on our faces constantly reminding us that the new normal takes some getting used to. The possibility of half a billion people being pushed into poverty, followed by a huge income loss on a global level, amongst the rest of the new challenges and obstacles, are pretty grim prospects. This is the new world order, filled with stressed and scared humankind. This is ‘the new normal’ for you and me — but we keep forgetting that ‘the new normal’ is nothing new to some people. I recently stumbled upon a great article published by the World Economic Forum called “There is nothing new about the new normal.” There it was, the falsehood of the new normal, described in detail. We are now walking in the shoes of the people from developing countries who have been regularly denied employment and healthcare, and this only came to our attention during coronavirus because people like you and me started to feel shut out as well.

This feeling led us to the following conclusions:

  • No matter how hard this has hit us, we need to accept the new lifestyle

The first step and the most important one is that we should take time to process all these challenges. We should be reminded that this disturbance and these hard times will pass as everything else does. We must let ourselves accept what is going on — and start working on eliminating the problem.

Telehealth and telemedicine have been “hot ideas” on the market for quite some time. They have been explored by different software companies, with some healthcare professionals implementing them into their everyday care of patients, even before the virus. What shocked me is the fact that the healthcare system of different European countries is far behind telehealth and telemedicine consumption, compared to North America. The U.K.’s healthcare system is falling behind, but it is the leader in adopting new technologies on the European market, while the rest of the countries are nowhere near. The reason why these solutions have been held back so far is mostly because of health professionals, and their reluctance to go digital.

On March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, these “hot ideas” became a necessity overnight.

And there are serious reasons why:

  • Social distancing being the only way of slowing the spread of the virus (so far)

And many more.

COVID-19 changed the need for telehealth in the United States very rapidly. According to McKinsey & Company, consumers shifted from 11% of telehealth utilization in 2019 to 76% interested in using telehealth nowadays.

Source: mckinsey.com; Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality?

This was a call to action for governments and healthcare providers around the world.

For us, people who work behind the curtains to bring digital solutions to life and provide them to those who need them, we’re now in the position to help telehealth and telemedicine show their potential.

Before we get to the benefits of these solutions, we first must understand the difference between them. Telehealth is different from telemedicine because it refers to a bigger range of remote healthcare services than telemedicine. Telemedicine refers specifically to clinical services, whilst telehealth refers to both clinical and non-clinical services (for example — training, management meetings, tutoring, etc.).

Benefits of telehealth and telemedicine

Let’s try an experiment.

Try to remember your various visits to the doctors.

First, you had to take a day off of work (or portion) to drive to a doctor’s appointment. Then you would have to search for a parking space. After that, you would have to wait in the lobby surrounded by sick people, and when you finally got to see your doctor — the appointment would last 10 to 20 minutes tops — and you spent an hour just to get to see your doctor (maybe even more). You could have spent that time playing with your kids, or reading a good book, at work, or perhaps trying to cook something new.

Telehealth and telemedicine save time, and I think time is a priceless commodity.

If you’re a healthcare professional and you’re reading this right now, you might ask yourself — okay, so what are the benefits for hospitals and doctors?

Let me show you.

Five years ago, a study tried to see if remotely delivered behavioral health interventions could improve healthcare in general, reduce hospital admissions, and decrease healthcare costs.

The results were stunning:

  • 38% fewer hospital admissions

Convinced enough?

Telehealth and telemedicine really do decrease healthcare costs — for example patient relocation. They even keep some patients out of the hospital and, at the same time, have control of the capacity of the healthcare system. Also, the U.K.’s very own NHS app, which enabled patients to manage their prescriptions, resulted in easing the overall strain on the system.

If you’re still suspicious, I recommend a good read by Tayma S. Shaya M.D. — this is her experience of implementing telehealth and telemedicine into her practice.

Potential risks and how to avoid them

One question that’s on everyone’s mind is how these solutions will impact us long-term. The rise of digital technology resulted in very few negative outcomes so far, but the future of healthcare cannot rely solely on that. It is really important to conduct thorough research on how both healthcare providers and their patients benefit from these solutions. They are not built to be a total substitute for face-to-face interactions between a doctor and a patient, and both parties should be aware of that.

Another crucial thing is to establish strong risk management strategies to overcome concerns and potential threats. As for reimbursement concerns, creating technology that can monitor expenses for reimbursement claims is a must. To eliminate lack of integration, combining the platform with Electronic Health Records (EHR) to record e-appointments and therefore document them, will result in easier navigation through the visits with different patients.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Adoption becomes an issue because of the lack of technical skills when it comes to both health providers and patients. Health professionals must take this seriously, meaning they must be well trained themselves, to help their patients navigate the process. It would be of great help to run a survey to see which devices patients find most helpful and easiest to use while using their telehealth services. As for privacy, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) declared that all network connections and data stored through telemedicine must be encrypted. This means that the only way of avoiding potential threats is to connect with the patients through secure connections.

Conclusion

The beauty of technology lies in its ability to change the world for the better, and we should embrace it. Telehealth and telemedicine are the future of healthcare. They are inevitable. But first, we must understand their purpose.

Their aim is not to replace traditional face-to-face appointments between patients and their doctors, but to enhance them. Their goal is to save time. To increase the efficiency of the healthcare system and decrease its costs. Nowadays, it even saves lives.

Tatjana Lukic, Project Assistant at Bridgewater Labs

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