Technology plays a crucial role in many industries, and the same is true for healthcare. Medical technology has allowed healthcare providers to better diagnose, treat, and monitor their patients.
Telehealth is one of the more recent technological breakthroughs in the healthcare industry — especially for delivering care safely during COVID-19. As healthcare technology continues to grow, and its use in healthcare becomes more commonly accepted, healthcare facilities will need to modernize their existing infrastructure and IT systems. This means that many will need to take advantage of a managed service provider (MSP) and MSP software to leverage remote monitoring and management (RMM) solutions — which can facilitate the full use of novel technology and modern solutions while maintaining IT security measures, compliance with HIPAA protocols, and preserving sensitive data integrity through distributed care teams.
Effective use of technology can be a boon to making the most of healthcare resources in a changing landscape, but it carries some IT challenges alongside major advantages.
1. Meeting a Remote Demand
There is a growing demand for remote healthcare options. Trends in the growing use of telehealth can be partly attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing ordinances, but other factors make up the demand. Statistics about millennials and telemedicine show that:
- 74% of millennials would choose a virtual/remote visit over traditional in-person appointments;
- 71% of millennials desire remote booking capabilities;
- 60% support replacing in-office visits entirely with telehealth.
As of 2020, more than half of Americans were millennial-aged or younger. As millennials begin — or continue — to have children, they will make up an even larger part of the population and their wants/needs simply cannot be ignored.
Remote options are also important for the senior/aging population. Hospitals house sick individuals and the senior/aging population is more susceptible to getting sick during in-person visits since aging affects your immune system. Remote telehealthcare/visits create a safe solution for aging adults and the demand for remote options is greater than ever because of COVID-19 and how it affects older adults.
2. Creating Timely and Convenient Access to Healthcare Providers
Immediate access to healthcare is not always available — especially healthcare access in rural communities or in areas where access is affected by the healthcare worker shortage. According to a HealthyPeople.gov study on access to health services, “A person’s ability to access health services has a profound effect on every aspect of his or her health, yet at the start of the decade, almost 1 in 4 Americans do not have a primary care provider (PCP) or health center where they can receive regular medical services.” The article goes on to explain that access to regular and reliable health services:
- Helps prevent disease or disability;
- Helps detect/treat health conditions;
- Helps improve the quality of life;
- Helps reduce the likelihood of premature death/increase life expectancy.
According to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) article, the use of telehealth to access health services became essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. The article goes on to explain that, in an attempt to reduce exposure/spread, reduce the impact of patient surges, and preserve personal protective equipment (PPE), the way we provide and access healthcare needed to change permanently.
New telehealth capabilities offer a timely and convenient solution to address rural access issues, healthcare workforce shortages, and pandemic precautions.
3. Development and Innovation of Healthcare Apps
As technology continues to converge with more touchpoints across the healthcare system, additional solutions and consumer-facing resources can help better manage access and connect patients with providers. For instance, there are many benefits to the use of mobile apps and digital applications in health care, but telehealth capabilities improve their effectiveness.
A growing use case is how apps, devices, and software can be used to remotely monitor and manage patients. Let’s say that a patient has cardiovascular issues that need constant monitoring. It wouldn’t be practical to have them in the hospital 24/7, nor would it be logical to just wait for something to happen outside a healthcare facility. Mobile apps can monitor your patient’s heartbeat and notify healthcare professionals of any issue — or potential issues — that may arise. Then healthcare professionals can use telehealth capabilities to communicate with your patient instantaneously for treatment, and afterward to check up. Remote monitoring apps paired with telehealth is a great option for patients that are in and out of the hospital — like cancer patients or elderly individuals.
4. Healthcare Affordability
Telehealth can improve healthcare access while reducing costs. According to HealthLeaders, the cost savings for telemedicine is estimated at between $19 to $120 per patient visit. This is largely a result of diverting patients away from emergency department visits — where the average cost came out to $1,389 in 2017. If you are someone who needs to travel for a healthcare appointment, telehealth can also potentially eliminate travel costs.
Additionally, telemedicine can save healthcare providers money — cost savings can be seen through:
- Patient retention and new patient opportunities;
- Overall overhead cost reduction;
- Quality of care improvements;
- Legal risk mitigation;
- Investing in the future.
5. Enhancing Quality of Care
When you improve access, support remote demand, innovate, and reduce costs, you improve the overall quality of care, patient satisfaction, and the number of positive patient outcomes. Chiron states that the reason telemedicine improves patient outcomes is that:
- It is more focused on one-on-one conversation;
- It has fewer obstacles that get in the way of obtaining treatment (e.g. travel);
- It reduces the risk of exposure;
- It makes follow-up visits simpler;
- It provides an alternative to coming in for imaging/testing results;
- It improves chronic condition monitoring;
- It provides alternative methods for mental health treatment;
- It improves medication monitoring.
Challenges of Telehealth
Similar to any implementation of new workflows, tools, and standards of care, there are challenges to consider in deploying telehealth. There can be obstacles for both patients and healthcare providers.
Some difficulties for patients attempting to make use of telehealth may include:
- Low-income individuals/families that may not have access to devices like a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or computer;
- Older patients who may not be as technologically savvy and struggle with tech adoption;
- Some insurers may cover traditional in-person visits, but not telehealth services.
Meanwhile, potential challenges for healthcare providers may include:
- Issues with telehealth services payment;
- Troubleshooting technology issues;
- Abiding by HIPAA protocols as well as relevant local regulations (especially when offering out-of-state care);
- Older healthcare workers modifying the way that they were taught how to do medicine;
- Cybersecurity threats;
- Finding good telehealth vendors;
- Potential for misdiagnosis.