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5 Surprising Ways In Which Telemedicine Is Revolutionizing Healthcare

November 02, 2018 | Shourjya Sanyal | Forbes

“Telemedicine is the natural evolution of healthcare in the digital world,” American Telemedicine Association. Telemedicine empowers the caregivers to remotely interact with their patients, which greatly improves both the efficiency and affordability of healthcare. Today patients, doctors and caregivers have learned to accept telemedicine (often called ‘telehealth’ or ‘connected health’) as one of many ways of delivering care.

Soon after Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone in 1876, ideas of using a telephone to communicate with physicians started appearing in the medical literature. However, telemedicine was truly born in the 1950s, when radiologic images were successfully transferred by telephone between West Chester and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the late 1960s and 1970s, telemedicine developed with support from National Aeronautics and Space Administration(NASA), U.S. Public Health Service, Department of Defense and other federal agencies.

Video chatting has become ubiquitous with technology advances such as 4G internet speeds, low-cost smartphones and standardized phone operating systems. The advent of additional technology standards such as interoperable electronic health records (EHR), secure cloud storage (HIPAA), and wearable health trackers that can communicate with the smartphone has further incentivized consumers to jump on to the telehealth bandwagon. Perhaps the ultimate goal of telehealth is to bring continuous care to consumers while they are working or at home, years before they end up in a clinic.

“Telehealth is not a specific service, but a collection of means to enhance care and education delivery,” says PHI's Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP). CCHP further classify telehealth into four types of services, live-video conferencing, mobile health, remote patient monitoring, and store-and-forward. Most telehealth platforms provide one or more of these services, to a niche patient or consumer segment.

Remote elderly monitoring

Between the years 2000 and 2050, the number of people aged 60 years or older is expected to increase from 605 million to 2 billion. The rapidly increasing elderly patient population have become one of the main beneficiaries of telehealth. Companies like ComarchAmerican Well, and Global Med are building doctor video chat platforms targeted at the elderly.

Medication adherence services such as AdhereTechMyUBox , MedMinder and Vitality GlowCaps are helping elderly and geriatric patients, as well as their caregivers, to smartly manage and track their medication usage.

Catalia Health’s Mabu robot or Intuition Robotics’ ElliQ robot are virtual home assistants for elderly who live alone and require daily assistance as well as companionship. Voice services such as Amazon Echo or Orbita Health are building virtual assistants, targeted at delivering medication adherence and care coordination for the elderly.

Remote psychiatric care

“Telepsychiatry, a subset of telemedicine, can involve providing a range of services including psychiatric evaluations, therapy (individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy), patient education and medication management,” American Psychiatry Association. Telepsychiatry has several advantages over traditional psychiatry including reduced stigma, reduced time off work, and better access to mental health specialty care that might not otherwise be available. Companies like Iris HealthGenoa HealthInSight, and MDLive are already delivering telepsychiatry platforms across the US.

Getting a second opinion

Patients often look for a quick and inexpensive second opinion from a specialist, after diagnosis of a medical condition. Telemedicine has stepped up, by providing solutions in this aspect as well. Companies and traditional healthcare services such as Partners Healthcare2nd.MDDoctorSpring, and Cleaveland Clinic are providing quick and efficient second opinions using telehealth.

Care in remote locations

One of the first use cases of telehealth was to provide health care in remote locations. More than 65 million Americans are already more than 60 minutes away from the closest acute-care hospital. Traditional healthcare providers such as Boston’s Children are partnering with telehealth companies to provide remote care to these healthcare deserts.

Redefining health insurance

Patients and their families often want continuous monitoring and care. Traditional health insurance providers are partnering with telehealth companies, to address those concerns. Anthem is working with American WellCigna is working with MDLiveBupa is working with Babylon Health and Aflac is working with MeMD to deliver benefits of telehealth to it’s existing customers. Health insurance providers such as Oscar Health is redefining health-insurance by building the whole customer experience around its own telehealth services.

As telehealth continues to replace traditional health care, it is going to inherit some of its challenges. These include increased cost of care due to multiple vendors, complex care pathways, and government policies. However, the question that remains to be answered is will this advanced technology that we call telehealth, be able to redefine the quality, equity and affordability of healthcare throughout the world.

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