In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a growth in the popularity of remote services. It’s not surprising that virtual healthcare services have been among the most demanded during this period, and TeleMedicine (the use of computer and telecommunication technologies by care professionals for the purpose of evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of patients when distance is significant) began to be actively used to ensure the safety of doctors and patients. However, not all medical institutions managed to quickly assess the benefits of remote interaction with patients and apply this technology. In this article, we will discuss the advantages and benefits of TeleMedicine for healthcare organizations, as well as the technologies that are needed to integrate it.
Prospects for TeleMedicine development
Many of the major US healthcare networks have seen a significant increase in televisits which now account for 40-50% of the total patient encounters. For example, a large clinic in New York, which accepts about 840,000 patients annually, reported an increase in the number of remote visits to 40,000 per month (compared to 2,000 at the beginning of 2020). Even in summer, when the pace of coronavirus infections had temporarily slowed down, the demand for TeleMedicine remained high.
There are several reasons why the popularity of TeleMedicine among patients will only increase, especially in the US:
- Health systems in many countries around the world have been under great stress and will continue to be under pressure in the near future. The pandemic is not weakening - according to the WHO, as of November 2020, there were 60 million cases of COVID-19 with more than 1.4 million fatalities.
- Standards and regulatory requirements have changed due to the pandemic, so organizing a TeleMedicine service has become easier.
- On October 14, the American organization Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has approved 144 virtual care services to qualify for Medicare reimbursement.
Between March and October 2020, more than 12.1 million patients requested TeleMedicine services.
Importance of software in TeleMedicine
During the TeleMedicine boom, the user audience of commercial solutions for remote services has grown exponentially. However, some clinics have opted to develop a service for themselves from scratch. This approach is more profitable in the long term, as package solutions are not much flexible. A service that suits the clinic now may not be able to cope with new volumes or types of tasks in a future perspective.
In addition, remote patient care services that are developed exclusively for clinics may include additional features such as:
- maintaining patient admission and discharge schedules,
- integration with electronic medical records,
- monitoring the patient's biometrics and long-term conditions via smart devices, etc.
Software plays an even more important role in Integrated Care models. In addition to the consultation and follow-ups with a doctor, patients receiving continuous medical treatment need to undergo tests and have their X-ray images interpreted. Sometimes it is necessary to consult several different medical specialists in a sequence. Software with advanced functionality helps to send the lab tests and scan results directly to the EMR, as well as plan the follow-up encounters, taking into account the schedules of all involved specialists and the patient's relatives, if necessary.
Problems of current IT solutions
At the moment, off-the-shelf TeleMedicine apps are not able to provide solutions that meet the needs of all users. When a patient physically visits a doctor, they receive an appointment confirmation from the reception, can undergo preliminary tests in a laboratory, and then go for an examination or consultation with a specialist.
Basically, a standard TeleMedicine application only allows for making an appointment and holding a virtual meeting with a doctor, after which the doctor can write a prescription. However, a whole range of necessary medical measures remains unrealized. Modern TeleMedicine is still operating in a simplified manner, which complicates the proper provision of more coordinated and integrated forms of care.
Now, when implementing solutions for TeleMedicine, companies usually choose between the two options:
- Get a ready-made solution with limited functionality.
- Develop their own system that includes all the necessary functionality.
In my opinion, the best option would be something in between: a solution based on an existing communication platform like Twilio, with the necessary infrastructure for providing comprehensive medical care built around it.
As we see, TeleMedicine is a much more complex and promising solution than just a video chat between a doctor and a patient. However, the capabilities and the extent of virtual care greatly depends on which IT solution the clinic has chosen. In addition, no matter what platform an organization chooses, for effective launch, support and, refinement of the system, it will need a team of professional specializing in TeleMedicine software development.
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