Future of Telehealth: What are Telehealth Future Trends?
To make quality healthcare accessible and affordable, any country has to build a nationwide infrastructure for preventive, promotive, and curative health systems and services. It becomes increasingly difficult for any Government or economy to make doctor consultation, diagnosis, treatment, medicine, and other allied services accessible to every household or corner of the country.
Most economies have their healthcare delivery institutions stretched by patient inflow. This can get further overwhelming if every patient ends up visiting healthcare facilities. In the past few decades, and especially in the post-pandemic world, telehealth has emerged as the single biggest answer to multiple challenges faced by healthcare institutions in delivering medical care.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth is an overarching term used for the delivery of a host of health and allied services ranging from medical consultation and diagnosis, health information services, health education and training to provider and patient, and self-care, via telecommunication and digital communication technologies. So, essentially telehealth includes telemedicine and other non-clinical services which helps healthcare institutions and public administrations facilitate public health. Telehealth technologies empower healthcare providers to amplify their reach to remote patient locations and deliver medical expert consultation through very basic healthcare facilities.
Impact of Telehealth
Often developing nations have two extreme ends of the patient population – one which does not believe in institutional healthcare and the second which believes that physical consultation is the only way to receive treatment. The impact of telehealth can be best judged by its use amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Faced with the pandemic, the Government of India had launched eSanjeevani – a doctor-to-patient free telemedicine service – integrating over 21,000 health and wellness centers and 1900 larger hubs of healthcare providers.
In around 15 months, the eSanjeevani platform offered a staggering 70 lakh teleconsultations. The private sector too, although many by the paid format, chose to support the public with telehealth consultation and the remote healthcare staff with training and education amidst the pandemic. It is ironic that it took a public health crisis to showcase the biggest success story of the reach and effectiveness of telehealth services.
Future Trends of Telehealth
Having proven its mettle in supporting countries navigate through one of the largest public health crises, telehealth is set to play an instrumental role in the future of modern healthcare services. The following are some of the key trends emerging for telehealth services.
Increased patient utilization
Telehealth technologies were implemented at an unmatched scale when the COVID-19 pandemic stuck to avoid community transmission. However, it has emerged as an effective measure for utilizing services for patient care.
Telehealth technologies are shaping healthcare to be digital-first. Instead of traveling to the hospital, patients can access medical consultation online first from the safety of their homes. Only after initial assessment and physician’s advice would they need to be present for physical examination. Telehealth facilitates sharing of diagnostic reports with doctors and e-prescriptions, further making healthcare delivery transparent, safe, and secure.
Easy chronic care management
Chronic diseases require regular doctor consultations and follow-up visits. These consultations do not always require the patient to be physically present. On many occasions, they are mostly to do with reviewing a patient’s health parameters which can be done with an exchange of medical care.
Increased focus on mental health
Mental health is often ignored and is highly stigmatized. People refrain from seeking help from psychologists and visit mental health facilities. Most often, the first thing they need is counseling from doctors. The telehealth platform is gradually becoming a mainstay in offering mental health services to patients who can seek consultation in remote, secure environments. It is ensuring confidentiality, safeguards patient identity, and preventing social stigma from disrupting patients’ willingness to undertake psychological consultations and counseling.
Increased adoption of mHealth
Telehealth is promoting the adoption of mobile health services, where doctors and healthcare providers leverage mobile technologies, such as smartphones, tablets, wearable devices, etc, and telecommunication technologies to offer consultation on call. With smartphones and data connectivity, tracking, monitoring, and remote sharing of health data, reports, and other information is becoming increasingly feasible. Healthcare providers are able to guide emergency cases, first aid treatment, etc., on a real-time basis when consulted by a patient in case of an emergency or otherwise.
Real-time remote patient monitoring
Telehealth technologies can utilize a range of Internet of Medical Thing (IoMT) and point-of-care devices to track and monitor patients’ health parameters. The telehealth system is capable to collect, transmit, and report patient parameters and health data using technologies such as wearables like smartwatches, smartphones, and applications to healthcare providers for continuous monitoring and real-time assessment.
Artificial Intelligence in Telehealth
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is impacting almost every aspect of healthcare. With regards to telehealth, doctors can do well with all the high-tech support in ensuring the correct diagnosis remotely. AI can play a crucial role in analyzing quality patient data and assist doctors to make real-time data-backed informed decisions. According to MIT research, around 75% of AI using healthcare facilities affirmed that AI helped in improving their ability to deliver treatment and cure diseases. AI can help in delivering more accurate diagnoses, preventing burnout for healthcare professionals, providing better care to patients, and ensuring remote monitoring of patients.
5G enabled VR/AR-powered care
The advent of high-speed 5G data connectivity is proving to be a game-changer for digital technologies such as virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) technologies, amplifying their capabilities to a whole new level. Telehealth services can be really strengthened with VR/AR capabilities where patients can enjoy better engagement with healthcare professionals. These technologies can also be used to impart better education and training to remotely placed medical staff and allied healthcare professionals.
Future of Telehealth
The future of telehealth is highly promising. In the new normal, government and private healthcare providers, from small clinics to multispecialty hospitals, are leveraging telehealth platforms and technologies to create a robust avenue for extending medical care, education, and training to patient and staff population all over the country. With advancements in technologies, global health systems will leverage superlative telehealth platforms to deliver quality healthcare at home or at remote areas.