A focus on high-quality, high-value services and outstanding patient and provider experience will transform telehealth delivery
Advancements in technology have consistently contributed to the evolution of digital health care. With telehealth infrastructure already in place prior to the pandemic, making the shift from in-person to remote care was seamless and uncomplicated.
This acceleration in the adoption of telehealth can be credited to two factors: (i) social distancing norms and (ii) efforts toward continuation of care. Since the pandemic has driven more people to access health care from the comfort of their homes, with key industry stakeholders further scaling services to meet this demand, the value of telehealth in preventing, tracking, testing, screening, educating, and increasing awareness has taken a tangible form.
Even with the restrictions eased in most parts of the world, the sector is fast gaining momentum. According to an EY study, the penetration of video consults has nearly quadrupled from 5% to 19% and telephone consultations doubled from 11% to 24%. Additionally, 70% of participants reported that a phone consultation was equally effective as communicating in person.
Embracing digital care with telehealth and beyond
Today, one of the most utilized forms of digital health is telehealth. It facilitates direct interaction between a patient and a physician via an audio or video call. With an increased number of telehealth care centers being established across the world, it aims to improve access to primary health care for people living in the most remote corners of the world, proving to be an important solution for developing countries. Despite a sharp increase in tele-consultations, the full potential of digital health remains untapped; below are three other ways in which digital care is helping modernize, streamline, and simplify the health system.
Digital monitoring or remote patient monitoring
Digital monitoring technologies and tools enable physicians to stay updated on their patients’ health conditions and be engaged with their care needs. These tools are most advantageous in management of chronic diseases. Conditions like, hypertension, COPD and even cancer would see better outcomes through remote patient monitoring. Better adherence to care pathways can also be conveniently achieved with remote patient monitoring through routine reminders to the patient and medical statistics being shared with the providers, facilitating interventions and timely adjustment of treatment plans.
It can further help reduce admissions and re-admissions, ease the burden on hospitals’ infrastructures and free up in-house diagnostic tools for better utilization, while reducing inessential spending on tests and services.
Investing in digital therapeutic (DT) research
The emergence of innovative solutions in therapeutic research can be highly beneficial in regulating and improving patient conditions, through predictive monitoring and by facilitating timely intervention.
These solutions are principally integrated with wearable devices, based on advanced algorithms that collect and analyze patients’ parameters and establish conditions or triggers for an individual. DT solutions are emerging for conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and the broad spectrum of anxiety disorders. Currently, FDA is in the process of approving software solutions or ‘digital pills’ as treatments for certain disorders and conditions. However, DT solutions have a long gestation period, requiring advanced research and availability of patient data to build desired solutions.
A focus on wellness
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has driven us to rethink our traditional health care system, ushering an era where wellness and preventive care are paramount. Therefore, identifying and promoting wellness solutions would be an integral part of the future. These solutions that already help us keep tabs on patients’ vitals, would also evolve to help monitor their diet and mental well-being.
Overcoming the challenges
A recent global survey revealed that 75% of Indian respondents regarded the shift to remote or virtual care as a top priority, adding that challenges like infrastructure limitations, among other factors, are stymieing the growth of the sector. Another EY study, affirms the need for advanced technology solutions to analyze health care related data and convert it into usable information, including personalized wellness solutions.
Therefore, both demand and supply-side barriers must be addressed to accelerate the advancement of digital health, including:
- Patient-level barriers such as absence of or infrequent internet access
- Clinician-level barriers like increased workload, arising from the need to update data across multiple applications
- Ecosystem barriers as most insurers are reluctant to use digital health channels for reimbursement of medical bills or demand traditional diagnostic tests before accepting outcomes of digital solutions for reimbursement – despite the potential to bring down administrative costs
- Research-level barriers like the unavailability of data and analytics for the development of innovative solutions on remote patient monitoring and digital therapeutics
- Regulatory barriers and a need to transcend administrative boundaries to encourage inno8vation in digital health
Creating an integrated ecosystem for telehealth
The need for a holistic approach to accelerate telehealth delivery is irrefutable. It is now incumbent on all stakeholders to future-proof the industry by leveraging the real power of digital health that promotes and supports the three pillars of health care system: availability, accessibility and affordability. With the booming demand for digital health and investments being made in the sector, valuing it at more than $550 billion by 2027, the potential it holds for universal care is evident. Through collaborative efforts that bring together all the stakeholders – patients, physicians, employers, health systems and health plans, an integrated care solution can be realized. This makes it poised to help achieve the ‘Quadruple Aim’ of delivering high-quality, high-value services and outstanding patient and provider experience.
However, to build a robust digital health infrastructure, it is imperative to break down barriers and focus on accelerating its growth. India has a vast technology talent pool estimated at around 1.6 million. With the acceleration of health tech at a great pace, there is a need for this talent to invest their skills in health care and solve for the future global challenges. In the future, the health tech sector would require competent big data and engineering leaders, data scientists, mobile technology experts, designers of user experience and interface (UX and UI), medical coding, health informatics and economics professionals, and cyber security experts, among others, to build solutions that can help modernize health care for all, and truly contribute toward this bright new chapter of health care.
(The author is Mr. Surinder Singh, Vice President, Operations at United Health Group and the views expressed in this article are his own)