Telehealth and COVID-19: The Global Rise of Telehealth and Advances in Digital Health Technology in the Post COVID-19 World
COVID-19 has catapulted global telehealth to the forefront of medical care, flourishing with new and existing technologies ready for healthcare workers to use in a serious effort to combat this deadly virus in a preventative manner. This comes at a time when digital health has blossomed in the last decade, with providers offering a series of solutions in areas such as mobile health (mHealth), artificial intelligence (AI) and wearables that could have a significant influence on doctors and patients who are adopters to the telehealth movement worldwide.
Over the past several years, telehealth, that is the remote delivery of medical or behavioral care services by health care professionals, has emerged as an effective avenue of delivering patient treatment. Not only in terms of cost of service, but also in accessibility to quality care for people who would not otherwise have access to good healthcare options.
Patients have much to gain by using telehealth as an alternative to in-person visits no matter where they live. In Europe, advances in telehealth has been reported as the second biggest eHealth trend after patient health records according to global advisor HIMSS. Further, in the US, the American Telehealth Association (ATA) claims several benefits to using telehealth services including: increased consumer access, enhanced reach of healthcare services, reduced cost structure, 24/7 coverage, high customer satisfaction and value for payers, consumers, and providers.
Notably, there are facts to support the positive trends and increasing acceptance of telehealth in the US:
- In 2017, 76% of hospitals in the U.S. fully or partially implement a telehealth system, up from 35% in 2010 (source: American Hospital Association).
- A study which reviewed insurance claims data from 2005-2017 from a large private U.S. health plan found that annual telehealth visits among all members of the health plan increased from 0.02 to 6.57 per 1,000 members during the study period mainly in large, commercially insured populations (source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health).
- In 2020, CEO, Bruce Broussard, managed care company Humana, publicly stated he expects the use of telehealth services to continue to rise after the [COVID-19] crisis with more health care services being performed in the home versus in the hospital.
Also, the recent COVID-19 crisis has opened the Asia-Pacific region to the telehealth concept quickly, as consultancy Bain & Co reported “nearly 50% of patients expect to use digital health tools in the next five years” and “91% of consumers said they would use digital health services if covered by an employer or insurance provider.”
The pressing need to deliver the best hospital care with telehealth has created an opportunity to turn past complaints into realistic areas of improvement.
Telehealth has become a useful and affordable option for those seeking primary care physicians’ opinions but who do not want to travel or to expose themselves to the negative elements of a doctor’s office, in or outside a hospital setting. In these situations, collecting data in advance of a doctor’s appointment via remote patient monitoring devices and techniques could improve the quality of the discussions and help in discovery of the roots of the patients’ conditions.
More specifically, wearable technology enhances the patient-provider experience, as well as provides data at a continuous rate to give a full picture of a patient’s state of health from the comfort of their own homes. In the case of COVID-19 related visits, real-time measurements of oxygen levels, for example, is a critical piece of data for health-care providers to know about before they assess and diagnosis the condition. We at yet2 have reviewed companies offering wearable technology to support remote patient tracking, and here are a couple of them worth noting:
- Medtor – Patented spectral white light sensor technology called SafeSAT® claims to measure patient vital signs more accurately than average oximeters, which may only be accurate when patients are motionless or where variations in skin coloration may still pose challenges.
- OxeHealth – a medical device/ software platform enabling a digital video camera to remotely detect vital signs, such as pulse, breathing rate. In April 2020, OxFed (a not-for-profit healthcare organization providing NHS services) and Oxehealth deployed non-contact cardio-respiratory measurement for suspected COVID-19 cases.
If the patient’s needs extend to specialists, we can foresee a series of AI applications that are currently changing the way doctors interact with patients. These could be available beyond the specialized rooms where procedures are currently being performed. Several technologies have been developed to assist the delivery of outpatient care. Optimizing workflows is also an important area of focus. Some of these technologies may still need to be used in the hospital setting, but if used in remote patient formats, we could see the following companies offering sophisticated, state-of-the-art solutions make an important impact in the telehealth space:
- NinesAI – FDA-cleared medical device for automated radiological review of CT head images for indications of intercranial hemorrhage and mass effect. Claim radiologists can be notified of finding in approximately 15 seconds after the scan is complete.
- Inspiren – a nurse-invented AI-enabled wall-mountable device used for continuous patient monitoring including for elderly care. Inspiren has reallocated 100% of its development efforts to where they are needed most—the fight against COVID-19 (source: PRWire 2020 press release). Through a hybrid sensing platform leveraging computer vision AI, environmental sensing, and IoT connectivity the technology analyzes and understands the physical and digital environment of the patient, including who entered, how long the visit lasted, proximity to the patient and if protective gear was worn.
- Buoy Health – a local, interactive, online resource for Massachusetts residents interested in learning about symptoms and risk factors of COVID-19 before, during or after visiting a healthcare provider.
Also, there is good news ahead for patients involved with clinical trials, with companies like Palo Alto startup Medable Inc. aiming to reduce clinical trial time by 50% by digitization. Through its “decentralized trial platform,” Medable is helping patients connect with trial sites with a streamlined recruitment and data collection process.
The next decade of telehealth will surely bring along with it changes to patients’ perceptions of what is possible in a remote healthcare setting. Pairing a known healthcare provider with the patient is key to building trust early in the transition to remote care. Comfort in sharing confidential patient information takes time until the structure and feel resembles an in person visit. With digital competition increasing, patients will look to choose their ‘brand’ of healthcare and we expect it to include telehealth. As we all look forward to seeing that transition begin, yet2 continues to monitor the space for innovative technologies and can assist companies in identifying and assessing the best technology partners in the medical field.
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