From wearable tech to AI-powered virtual medical assistants, healthcare is evolving into a digital domain.
Telehealth services have been around for decades; they’ve been used to treat patients in remote areas, facilitate the sharing of medical records, and help people track their health at home. But recent improvements in technology have led to a number of telehealth breakthroughs, and this is modernizing the healthcare industry.
In this article, we’ll look at three ways telehealth devices, platforms, and therapies are transforming healthcare. First, let’s talk about why telehealth is so important right now.
Why Healthcare Needs Telehealth
Aside from the use cases already mentioned, why is telehealth so important? Let’s look at the numbers:
- 64% of Americans delayed or skipped needed medical appointments because of the cost.
- By 2030, the WHO projects a shortfall of 18 million health workers.
- On average, a new patient has to wait between 14 and 52 days to get an appointment.
- By 2027, health spending is expected to grow by 5.5% – more than the US gross domestic product.
Telehealth can address these problems; it helps providers manage their time more efficiently, which allows them to treat more people. It can reduce patient costs, sometimes very significantly. And it makes healthcare more available to people with limited mobility or transportation.
There are also what we might call the intangible benefits: better and faster communication between patients and medical teams, reduced person-to-person contact (and thus reduced risk of spreading disease), and more convenience and comfort for the patient.
Most importantly, people are willing to give telehealth a go. Although only 8% have used telemedicine services, 66% are willing to try them. And, as digital natives (Millennials and post-Millennials) make up a greater percentage of the population, we can expect their comfort with apps and chatbots to translate into comfort with virtual visits, remote patient monitoring, and other telehealth services.
So, there’s a clear need for telehealth. What specific aspects of this field are set to revolutionize the industry?
3 Telehealth Technologies That Are Modernizing Medicine
Teleconferences, virtual meetings, apps, wearable tech – these have become part of our daily lives. They’re also some of the forces that are modernizing healthcare.
We’ve all done it: turned to Dr. Google with a medical question. Why not try a telehealth chatbot instead?
These chatbots use Artificial Intelligence to “learn” medical information and Natural Language Processing to “understand” people’s written or spoken questions. They’re also seeing some use as virtual medical assistants, taking patients’ case histories and, where appropriate, guiding them to additional (verified) medical information. A relatable example is a joint project between Verily and Google that helps people answer COVID-19 questions.
A more personal approach to virtual care is remote patient monitoring. This can be done either professionally (i.e. a videoconference with a doctor) or by family members. For seniors who want to age in place, remote monitoring can keep them in the familiar comfort of their homes longer. This field has moved beyond alarm-based services like Life Alert and now encompasses GPS-enhanced shoe inserts, video doorbells, wearable tech, Internet-connected sensors, and much more.
Wearables, Devices, and Apps
Speaking of wearables and other devices brings us to the next trend in telehealth. Again, at-home medical devices are not new; we’ve been using them to monitor blood pressure, blood sugar, and other numbers for a long time. But the next generation of health and fitness gadgetry is truly outstanding; the emerging MedWand, for example, contains multiple sensors and can examine your hearing, vision, breathing, heart function, and other vital stats. And it’s just a bit bigger than your computer mouse. This info is then sent to your doctor to review.
How is this shaping the healthcare industry? For one thing, wearables and apps encourage users to take more responsibility for their own health. They can also interface directly with telehealth platforms. These features aren’t necessarily limited to medical devices; the latest Apple Watch has a Fall Detection option that offers to contact medical help if it senses a problem.
Telehealth platforms serve the needs of patients (booking appointments, accessing records) and their doctors. They can help the office admins store and forward electronic health records, quickly check insurance coverage, manage providers’ schedules, and more. Below is a list of some of the functionalities of such systems:
- Facilitate visits via phone or videoconference.
- Integrate with some wearable health trackers.
- Provide secure messaging between patients and providers.
- Coordinate care across providers.
- Offer on-demand virtual clinics/visits.
As you can see, these three technologies are interrelated; devices and wearable and telehealth platforms all work together to keep people well. And they’re reducing some of the strain on emergency rooms, clinics, and even hospitals. It’s not farfetched to say that these are the backbone of the telemedicine-healthcare revolution.
Learn More About Telehealth and the Future of Healthcare
Technology is rapidly evolving, and the healthcare sector is benefitting from the change. Remote patient monitoring, digital health record management, and tech-based therapy and support are improving patient outcomes, alleviating some of the strain on medical providers, and streamlining the care process.
To learn more about telehealth and the future of healthcare, download Mapping the Telehealth Landscape, Star Global’s free report detailing 12 key telehealth trends. It’s a comprehensive look at the state of telehealth, including a review of current trends and drivers.