Websites for doctors are no longer just simple websites. Thanks to the ever-evolving technology, we are able to leverage these tools to do more than simply inform. These websites are now able to do more and serve as a gateway for a better healthcare experience – enter telehealth.
First, let’s define what telehealth is. Telehealth can be defined as “ a broad range of technologies and services to provide patient care and improve the healthcare delivery system as a whole.” Telehealth also refers to remote non-clinical services like providing training, conducting administrative meetings, and even continuing medical education in addition to clinical services. In a nutshell, telehealth includes the delivery of health information for both professionals and consumers, the education and training of healthcare workers, and health systems management via the internet and telecommunications.
Now that we know what telehealth is, we also have to understand that it is continuously evolving to work with the technology on hand and to meet the needs of the market. A good example for this is the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has disrupted all facets of life, the healthcare industry included, in a short amount of time. We all had to adapt and innovate in order to still function and even come out better than before. Here are some of the trends that we are now seeing and can even expect to see more of for this year:
- Decentralized healthcare – a good number of healthcare professionals are starting to move away from larger hospital complexes and opening up small community-based practices. By doing so, more professionals are able to reach more patients who are in need of services via outsourcing.
- Continuous growth of telehealth – the pandemic saw a significant rise of patients using telehealth services compared to in-person visits. One of the major benefits of this is that it lessens contact between patients, healthcare workers, and other patients. The advent of wearable devices is seen to be a factor as these let healthcare workers have real-time information on patient data from any location. The growing number of telemedicine apps made available and accessible to the public is also sustaining this trend and helping it carry out into the future.
- The use of Artificial Intelligence – one trend that we are seeing is the use of artificial intelligence or AI as a standard of care. AI is no stranger to us. In fact, many patients have already encountered or used AI without realizing it. An example would be chatbots. These AI-based chatbots when integrated with medical information (conditions, treatments, symptoms, medications, doctors, etc) can help facilitate a faster diagnosis process. Likewise, AI is being highly utilized in the fight against COVID in areas such as thermal screening, facial recognition with masks, and such. Future uses for AI are being eyed in healthcare diagnosis and treatment – one example is AI pattern recognition in cancer treatment can help doctors develop a treatment plan that is tailored to fit the patient’s lifestyle and genetics. Another example is an AI-based diagnosis for indications of diabetic retinopathy where the eye is scanned and the high-quality photos of the retina are thoroughly examined to determine whether a patient has the disease or not.
- The rise of the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) – by combining the Internet of Things (IoT) development with telehealth and telemedicine technologies, IoMT is on a steady rise. Thanks to wearable devices and other new delivery methods, a whole ecosystem will rise. There will be constant communication between these devices and delivery methods to healthcare providers, enabling better monitoring, allowing for better treatment plans, and real-time diagnosis.
- Enhanced security – privacy has always been an important issue when it comes to healthcare, especially with regards to HIPAA compliance in 2020. As such, healthcare delivery organizations are continuously beefing up their security while providers are working hand-in-hand with regulating bodies to ensure that vital patient information would be only accessed by those who have the right to do so.
- A new reality – Aside from using video conferencing tools, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and even mixed reality (MR) applications are helping both healthcare providers and patients. Aside from enhancing patient and healthcare provider visits, other adaptations in the AR-VR mix include improving the way medical students learn before performing interventional procedures and help patients reduce their anxiety as AR-VR provides medical immersion for a range of patient needs by providing them with a clear picture or experience of their conditions and procedures they need to undergo. In medical imaging, VR can also help doctors come up with better plans to support patient safety by reducing radiation exposure. VR can also help patients in isolation by means of having programs for self-guided rehabilitation exercises and addressing chronic pain. Meanwhile, AR enables a digital twin environment – members of a surgical team can carry out their work in an environment tailored to their specific roles. AR-VR is already making a significant impact as it provides a viable, cost-effective training option, providing practitioners the opportunity to practice within an interactive, engaging, and safe environment.
As we get to witness and experience all these breakthroughs happening now in healthcare, we can surely expect much bigger things to happen in the near future. Thanks to these advancements, we are now experiencing greater patient care, ease of workflow, lower healthcare costs, and even better public health as technology has afforded us: shorter patient waiting times; improved access in rural areas; and improved efficiency, leading to savings.
While proven systems are often preferred for their reliability, it is normal that there are rational and natural hesitations when it comes to bringing together technology and healthcare. We shouldn’t worry as creators and innovators are always looking for new ways to improve performance, productivity, efficiency, and reliability. What we can do best now is to look towards the future with courage and an open mind. The future of healthcare lies in working hand-in-hand with technology and healthcare workers have to embrace emerging healthcare technologies in order to stay relevant in the coming years.