By Inga Shugalo
“We’re being abandoned,” said Ginny, 22, in an interview with BBC. As a disabled woman, she experienced the impact of COVID-19 much more severely than most of the population. Lockdown limitations restrained access to assistance, both from healthcare workers and close ones, and further confined the impaired to their homes. According to the Health Foundation’s COVID-19 impact inquiry, disabled people are twice more likely to admit that the pandemic negatively impacted various aspects of their lives, such as relationships or healthcare availability.
At the same time, the average number of US adults reporting symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders has grown to 41% in 2021, compared to just 11% in the same month in 2019. Prolonged isolation takes its toll on our mental health as we enter the second year of social distancing, with access to healthcare — including psychotherapy — seriously hampered.
Improving care delivery remotely and on-site
Bridging the gap between patients and doctors is one of the major challenges healthcare has to face in 2021. But grim as the situation may seem, there’s a silver lining — technology. COVID-19 spurred the development and adoption of patient engagement solutions. They can also be easily adapted to the post-coronavirus reality and are likely to stay in use for good.
Join us as we go through the essential aspects of engaging patient populations through technology during the pandemic and beyond.
Telehealth solutions: forget the distance
With access to on-site healthcare more difficult than ever before, it’s telemedicine’s day in the sun, and rightfully so, what with the fears of visiting the doctor’s office in person due to COVID-19.
Teleconsultations are an effective way to maintain the quality of care without compromising doctor-patient relations and face-to-face contact. While a video meeting can’t replace certain medical procedures, simple physical exams, including throat, eyes, and nose checks, can easily be conducted on-call.
The popularity of digital and mobile telemedicine solutions presents a unique opportunity for healthcare providers to increase patient outreach. Services like online consultations, reminders, e-prescriptions and health records can be accessed wherever patients are and whichever device they are using.
Communicating with a physician remotely can be particularly appealing to younger patients, who are more used to online interactions. But even more importantly, telemedicine allows the ever-busy young professionals to fit a visit into their tight schedules.
Wearable devices: the patient’s best friend
The more one knows about their health, the easier they can identify problems and nip them in the bud. One of the best ways to achieve that is to constantly monitor one’s health condition with the help of wearable devices and accompanying apps.
Smart technology and compatibility with mobile apps have become the norm in all healthcare devices, from thermometers to hearing aids. Even the most basic fitness bands can monitor blood pressure, sleep quality, and heart rate, and wearables like adhesive biosensors help to keep track of even more parameters. They prove invaluable in the times when you can’t easily consult a doctor in person for a routine health check.
When integrated with a provider’s custom software (like an app or patient portal), healthcare wearables can keep physicians updated on the condition of their patients at all times. If a crucial health metric reaches an alarming state, the device can send notifications to both the doctor and the user. Ironically, patients stay in charge of their health without investing any effort — all they need to do is keep their wearable on and charged.
Another advantage of smart wellness devices is their synergy with other technologies. By monitoring the patient’s health 24/7, wearables can feed the underlying AI with massive amounts of data, easily transferred to and downloaded from the cloud. Based on this information, the AI can build advanced, detailed and patient-specific health reports vital for a proper medical assessment. As a result, patients can avoid unnecessary visits and curb the risk of infection. Safety first!
Patient portals: one platform for all health-related things
Offered by most healthcare providers, patient portals have long been a staple in telemedicine. COVID-19 brought them to the forefront of the patient-doctor interaction, enabling remote around-the-clock access to medical records, scheduling, messaging, and even online visits, all in one place. In the context of the pandemic, hospitals and medical practices can use their platforms to quickly and securely share test results with patients. All in all, given a broad enough range of services, a patient portal can effectively become a virtual clinic.
That being said, some age groups are still reluctant to register on their provider’s online platform. Many Millennials prefer this channel for communicating with their doctors, but it’s not the case with senior patients: 45% of patients aged 65 and older are reluctant to use a patient portal. For many of them, the reason is the lack of technological prowess. To reverse this trend and convince the older generations to use a patient portal, healthcare providers should prioritize the ease of use and support patient onboarding.
A friendly (and vital) reminder
The success of large-scale healthcare initiatives, such as providing a two-dose vaccine for millions of people, relies on the close cooperation of all involved parties. It’s easy to imagine that such ventures don’t always go exactly according to plan: certain people might get confused and miss their appointment, some are unaware that they need a second dose, while others simply forget the date.
These cases may be rare, but they still lead to a waste of valuable time and resources — a waste that could be easily avoided with an efficiently implemented notification system. Most telemedicine solutions allow patients and doctors to set up useful reminders. They can notify the patient about the upcoming visit, remind them to take medicine, and help them adhere to their immunization schedule.
In an increasingly digitized world, embracing new technologies is essential to keep patients engaged. The pandemic has only accelerated this trend. To be a part of that change, doctors have no choice but to get up to speed with patient engagement solutions. Using them will allow them to push patient engagement further, which will reflect positively not only on their business but principally on patient outcomes.
Inga Shugalo is a Healthcare Industry Analyst at Itransition, a custom software development company headquartered in Denver, Colorado. She focuses on Healthcare IT, highlighting the industry challenges and technology solutions that tackle them. Inga’s articles explore diagnostic potential of healthcare IoT, opportunities of precision medicine, robotics and VR in healthcare and more.