The global Covid-19 pandemic has ushered telemedical tools into the spotlight
A digital revolution is taking place in the medical industry. Anyone who has downloaded the Covid-19 tracking app has already been impacted by it. But medical apps are far from new.
In reality, telemedicine is already foundational to quality modern medical care. If you’re working in the medical industry, you are using telemedicine. If you aren’t — you’re missing out.
The global Covid-19 pandemic has ushered telemedical tools into the spotlight, and with good reason. With growing concerns about health care accessibility, socially distant care, and medical transparency, understanding how the medical industry can meet these evolving needs is vital. Telehealth technologies provide a promising answer. They improve the way patients navigate the industry and access care while giving medical professionals another tool in their quality care arsenal.
If the terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” create confusion, don’t worry. Today, we’re demystifying telehealth by answering the basics. What is it, and how is it defined? How are mobile health care technologies being used? How do they improve the quality of care? What are the risks and rewards of this digital transition? Keep reading to find out.
What Are Telehealth & Telemedicine
Telehealth refers to a wide range of medical services and resources that are accessed through digital technology. This includes web and mobile-based applications, platforms, and resources geared towards the healthcare industry that are all accessed digitally. Telehealth encompasses telemedicine.
Telemedicine refers specifically to medical care being offered through digital tools. As an example, if your patient logs on to a Skype call to talk to you as their family doctor, they’re utilizing telemedicine. If you then refer them to a specialist and use a digital platform to forward their medical records, you’re utilizing telehealth.
How Are Health Care Providers Utilizing Telehealth?
Today, mobile devices grant you and your patients access to resources from any location with an internet connection. Prior to this, in order to do your job you needed to be physically close to both your patients and the tools of your trade. Communication tools, resources and references guides, hospital information systems (HIS), and diagnostic software are all essential to your job. Now that these resources can be accessed from a mobile device, the limitations of your industry can be reimagined.
If you are already using telehealth tools in your practice, you aren’t alone. A study conducted by Medimedia on mobile app use in the medical industry found that among health care providers (HCP):
- 63% used tablets for job-related searching
- 65% used their mobile phones for job-related searching
- 85% of medical students used their mobile devices daily for clinical purposes
- In most cases, phones and mobile devices were used for information gathering, time management, and patient care
The use of mobile devices in your industry makes it easier to access resources and improve the quality of care for patients industry-wide.
How Does Telemedicine Make Your Job Easier
As mentioned earlier, accessibility is an obvious advantage of mobile technologies. When your mobile device grants faster, easier access to resources, you can provide more efficient, accurate, and convenient care. Let’s break it down.
Time Is Money
Freeing up just 20 minutes of your time every day means roughly 5 extra patients can be seen weekly. Add that up over the course of a 50-week working year and you can see an additional 250 people.
Reductions In Error Rate
Another thing that improves care is accuracy. The use of mobile devices in the medical field resulted in up to a 30% reduction in medication-related errors. This reduced error rate may be in part due to the increased speed, accuracy, and volume of quality resources mobile access offers.
Increased Accessibility And Efficiency
Mobile resources mean accessible resources.
Telemedicine is digitizing areas of the medical industry, making it more efficient. Web and mobile-based software make it easier to digitize patient records and medical data with virtual storage. This reduces the risk of loss or damage due to physically transporting or storing records, and enables the near-instant transfer of medical records to necessary institutions. Increasing the efficiency for data transfer frees up time, energy, and human resources that can be reallocated to further improving other areas of care.
So, we know that telemedicine helps you and your practice. What about your patients?
How Does Telemedicine Improve Patient Care
Telemedicine benefits practitioners and their patients in overlapping ways. The main similarities are time and accessibility. But telemedicine also offers patients added safety and convenience.
Many patients face barriers when trying to access traditional medical care. Hurdles like geographical location, access to transportation, or the ability to get time off for an appointment can restrict a patient’s access to care. When a patient can access their doctor in a virtual video call from home or while on a work break, these hurdles disappear. In fact, 76% of patients think accessibility to online healthcare services is more important than communication in person. Another 70% of patients say they prefer interaction with their HCP via email or two-way video stream.
Reduced Wait Times
In-patient care at brick-and-mortar hospitals isn’t going anywhere. But not every patient in a waiting room needs to physically see their doctor. Patients in need of a consultation, test results, and referrals, or to discuss symptoms or concerns do not need to enter a physical location. They can get the same quality care virtually, from any location. Using this method, the patient saves time and resources while gaining greater accessibility. This has an additional advantage — it reduces congestion at that physical location and saves human resources for the people who need to physically visit.
The Covid-19 pandemic is the perfect example of how reduced crowding in medical institutions increases safety. But the coronavirus is not the only reason that socially distant care is safer. Many immunocompromised individuals, such as those receiving dialysis or chemotherapy, are at a greater risk of developing a medical complication through physical exposure. This risk is greatly increased by close proximity to infectious individuals.
These risks are reduced to zero if the infected individual never enters the hospital. By using telehealth technologies, these patients would receive a diagnosis and treatment options through their phone, from the safety of their home. Meanwhile, patients who physically rely on the hospital for treatment also remain safe. These telemedicine options are advantageous, but how do you actually access and use them?
What Technologies Are Changing The Medical Industry
We’ve established that telemedicine is advantageous for both you and your patients, but what technologies are actually being utilized? It’s a lot more than skype-calls and online appointment scheduling. Telemedicine encompasses both web and mobile-based software that vary widely from augmented reality to data sharing software, from diagnostic support to patient monitoring, and beyond.
Resource Sharing Technology
We’ve discussed the advantages of digital storage for patient record keeping. But access to digital versions of cutting-edge research and medical advancements is also extremely beneficial to your practice. There are apps specially designed to connect medical professionals globally across interdisciplinary fields, enabling them to share resources. Greater resources provide your practice with larger data pools to pull from when making diagnoses and recommendations. Other industry-specific apps can be licensed to entire medical institutions, providing fast access to research, resources, and expert recommendations that would not be available otherwise.
Ongoing Training Resources
Augmented reality (AR) is increasingly used in medical training. Software that can mimic surgical procedures using detailed 3D models, or provide examples of how specific medical conditions present are invaluable for both medical students and practitioners.
AR tools offer greater diversity and freedom than would be possible with more traditional teaching methods. Traditional methods (like utilizing human cadavers for education anatomy training) are limited by both time constraints and availability while AR programs can be used any time.
Improving Patient Care
Telehealth medicine provides greater resources for HCPs while also increasing transparency, freedom, and accessibility to patients. There are medical apps designed to assist patients with scheduling and canceling appointments, as well as assistance with billing. These apps simplify administrative tasks for your practice, while also keeping things easy for your patient.
Health monitoring systems can also benefit your practice and your patients. These telehealth tools can vary from physical devices to apps that allow patients to record their symptoms daily. This provides high-quality data your practice can use to better understand your patient’s unique needs.
Advanced AI Communication Between Medical Institutions
As medical care becomes less restricted by location, and resources become more digital, hospitals themselves will change. Smart health care systems can utilize artificial intelligence (AI) and data algorithms to improve end-to-end medical care for all involved, from patients to doctors, and even administrative staff.
In 2018, CHI Franciscan Health (now part of CommonSpirit Health) in Tacoma Washington integrated an AI-powered “command center ecosystem” linking it with four other medical institutions. Similar to an Air-traffic command center, this AI power supports real-time patient monitoring. This monitoring allows for synchronized care between hospitals while reducing errors and flagging key pressure points in the system. In Canada, Humber River Hospital opened a similar system in 2017 as part of a hospital-wide digital transition, with the expectation that it will increase efficiency by approximately 40%. This plan includes extending into at-home patient care.
What Are The Advantages and Disadvantages Of Telehealth Technologies
The advantages of telehealth tech for the medical industry are clear:
- Mobile applications that create faster access to more robust resources save HCPs time
- 3D and AR tools are more versatile and adaptable teaching aids for medical students
- Integrating AI software into medical institutions saves time and administrative resources
- Diagnoses and treatments improve when doctors can access cutting-edge research and diagnostic support through their phones
Patients see the benefits of telehealth tools, too. They save time and resources when accessing care virtually, and experience increased safety by limiting their exposure to hospitals. For all involved, quality improves and time is saved. And when time is saved, money is saved.
But all new technology comes with risks that you should be aware of when considering options for your institution.
A patient’s medical data is inherently sensitive. As a practitioner, you have a responsibility to ensure the technologies you rely on to do your job also keep your patients and their privacy safe.
Digitizing and transferring your patient’s sensitive information comes with risks of it falling into the wrong hands. Regulations like HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) and PHIPA (Personal Health Information Protection Act), set the standards of federal best practices to ensure the safety of personal data. Your chosen digital solutions must meet these standards or you risk fines up to hundreds of thousands of dollars or even jail time depending on the nature of the violation.
Needless to say, security should be your foremost concern as you adopt new digital tools.
Shortcomings In Software
Technological hurdles are nothing new. During the Covid-19 vaccination rollout in North America, many online systems designed for scheduling vaccination appointments crashed due to software bugs or overloaded systems. The more the medical industry relies on telehealth, the greater the stakes for its seamless success.
Thankfully, this problem has an easy answer. The best way to mediate issues with software is to stop them before they start by working with experts in software and app design. If you want the best tools to do your best work, get the best teams to make those tools.
Technology Adoption Hesitancy
Even with a multitude of benefits, technological change can be difficult for some. As the industry transitions, those hesitant to adopt telehealth tools will have their access to care increasingly restricted. And as digital tools become industry standard, practices unable to keep up with the shifting environment will find themselves facing challenges in providing top-quality care.
Encouraging the adoption of telehealth tools can happen in two ways — systemically and individually. Systemically, practices and institutions incorporating telehealth tools in their daily workflow foster faster tech adoption. For example, if the only way to book an appointment is through a practice’s online portal, patients will adapt to it by necessity. Individually, integrating tools in your own practice normalizes and encourages tech adoption voluntarily. An example here would be offering a video-call follow-up to a client for receiving test results, instead of booking an in-person appointment.
If you work in the medical industry, you already know what incredible tools mobile devices can be. To get more out of these tools, rethink the way you create patient care plans to incorporate telehealth. Look for software and applications that enable your patients to connect with you virtually for support when in-person visits aren’t mandatory. Reassure your patients that telehealth tools are safe, reliable, and convenient.
Shifting the model of healthcare to one that prioritizes accessibility to patients means they face fewer barriers like transportation or employment insecurity. It also keeps them safe by limiting high-touch, high-exposure health care situations, unless absolutely necessary.
Systemically, support and embrace medical institutions that are joining AI ecosystems like Washington’s CommonSpirit Health and Ontario’s Humber River Hospital. Advocate for administrative improvements in the health avenues you work with regularly. And if you have an idea for a telehealth tool, consider proposing it to your institution, reinforcing the time, human resources, and financial benefits the technology provides.