Words by Katie Puckett
Telemedicine will be an integral part of our healthcare future, and COVID-19 is accelerating the transition. But it will only reach its full potential if it is accessible to all, including society's most vulnerable
Telehealth has been one of the fastest growing parts of the healthcare sector, with a range of new apps such as Teladoc, Doctor on Demand (pictured) and Babylon serving a patient base that is increasingly tech savvy. The millennial generation and younger, in particular, are comfortable with digital interaction, and demanding that providers allow them to access services in this way.
For patients, the prospect of video consultations with clinicians is more convenient than taking time to go to the hospital, especially for routine check-ups or minor conditions. For providers, helping patients to better manage conditions at home through remote monitoring and automated reminders offers a way to reduce the burden of chronic disease and demand for medical intervention. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend, as governments around the world urge their citizens to stay at home, and for only the most severe cases to attend hospitals.
“COVID-19 will expedite the transition to a telemedicine environment. We are piloting and clinically validating products in real time”Michael Crawford, Howard University College of Medicine
“Telemedicine will be a critically important access point,” says Michael Crawford, associate dean for strategy, outreach and innovation at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington DC. “It’s not only how we leverage telemedicine and remote monitoring in a pandemic, it’s how we should deliver care, period.”
Data will be the key to future medicine, he believes. By integrating health, social, financial and environmental data across disparate platforms and applying artificial intelligence and machine learning, we will be able to better track infectious disease or flag patients at risk. “If people have been instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days, we could evaluate them based on historical data, and start to create personalized, real-time interventions. If an individual’s biometrics deviate from the normal pattern of recovery, we could proactively deploy resources to address the issue.”
The only way to deliver care to people in their homes is to understand how they function within their home environment — their natural habitat, he adds. “If we are capturing a patient’s activity patterns and evaluating their heart rate, blood pressure, breathing patterns, sleeping levels from a wearable device or sensor, then we can observe if they are trending in the right direction or when a medical intervention would be appropriate.” Patients could be sent a message to check in, or in more serious cases, a medical professional could be deployed to the home.