During the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us envisioned the potential future of telehealth. Telehealth, or telemedicine, is the continuous delivery and execution of any service related to health or medicine in a remote environment, using telecommunications and digital communication channels. That’s a somewhat vague definition, but it includes things like doctor visits, checkups, consultations, prescriptions, and more, all done remotely.
The pandemic forced the hand from technologists, healthcare providers and other organizations. With people restricted by lockdown protocols and concerned about their own well-being, remote medical care and medicine became the only real options, and it worked quite well.
But what does the future of telehealth look like? And will public acceptance continue?
The current state of telehealth
Let’s start by looking at the current state of telehealth.
Today’s telehealth incorporates a wide range of different technologies, including AI-based monitoring, high-tech wearable devices, video chat consultations and more. However, not everyone has made use of virtual dating or digital communication, and many of the applications of telehealth are limited to the following:
- Behavioral health. Behavioral health services, including therapy, are often easy to provide through video chat and other forms of digital communication.
- Management of chronic diseases. Patients with chronic illnesses or chronic pain generally need some form of ongoing treatment and support, but going to appointments all the time can be exhausting. That is why telemedicine is ideal for the management of chronic diseases.
- Queries. Simple queries often require little physical interaction. Practically, doctors can still meet with you, talk about your problems, and even observe your body and measure vital signs to see what actions are appropriate next.
- Remote monitoring of patients. Thanks to wearable devices and other technologies, it is possible to monitor patients remotely, paying attention to their heart rate, temperature, breathing rate, and other metrics.
Most doctors, nurses, and other health care providers agree that telehealth can be effective and that it is a preferable treatment alternative for many patients. However, regulatory support remains slow and some people are reluctant to use telehealth services due to privacy concerns, skepticism about the benefits of technology, or simply ignorance of how technology works.
The benefits of telehealth
The stakes are high in the world of telehealth. Continuing to advance and drive the industry will have benefits in the form of:
- Convenience. Providing medications remotely is more convenient for everyone involved. Healthcare providers can provide consultation and some type of treatment anywhere. Patients can receive care even if they are at home. This completely eliminates the need to travel to a facility, eliminates waiting times, and allows the patient to feel more comfortable throughout the entire process. It is more efficient and more comfortable, in general.
- Reduced costs. Thanks in part to increased convenience, telehealth has the potential to reduce costs. Patients do not have to pay for transportation nor do they need to use the same facilities that they would use with an in-person visit. Delivering care remotely can also be faster and consume fewer resources, reducing bills for both insurance companies and end consumers.
- Best answer. By meeting patients virtually and monitoring data flows remotely, clinicians and healthcare professionals can typically see more people in a given period of time. This is an especially important benefit, considering the current shortage of doctors.
- Greater responsiveness. With live data streaming and automatic alerts, clinicians can often be faster and more responsive to patients who need care the most. This can prevent medical disasters and ultimately provide better care to those who need it most.
- Improved results. In general, patients will enjoy better results. More doctors available, greater scope, lower costs, and more immediate treatment will save lives and make people feel more comfortable.
How telehealth will evolve
So how will telehealth evolve in the future?
- Custom solutions. To start with, we will see more demand for customized solutions – for both individuals and healthcare professionals. Every hospital and clinic in the country is going to be hungry for their own proprietary applications, software, devices, and other technologies to provide their patients with the best possible care. Consequently, there will be a golden age of health care technology development and thousands of new technologies that will push the limits of our medical knowledge.
- Inclusion in health policies. We will also see the inclusion of specific telehealth and telemedicine policies and schemes in health policies. Government departments, insurance companies, and other organizations will work to create specific rules and regulations for telehealth, legitimizing it in the public eye and setting the stage for future developments.
- Portable devices. Wearable devices are already a big part of telemedicine, but they will be a most of the industry in the future. Currently, the bracelets can detect and transmit your heart rate remotely, along with other metrics such as body temperature. In the future, portable devices will become more diverse, more discreet, and more sophisticated, capable of measuring a much wider range of data points without the user noticing.
- Data-driven profiles. Big data and telemedicine go hand in hand. By using 24/7 devices that collect information about your body and health habits, doctors will have access to huge volumes of data about you as a person. With that, they will be able to make much more individualized treatment plans and provide you with exactly what you need to maximize your chances of improvement or recovery.
- AI bots. Although telehealth will have the potential to free up physicians time with faster appointments and greater convenience, it is likely that we will continue to suffer from ongoing labor shortages in the field. To compensate for this, we are likely to see the emergence of artificial intelligence chatbots that can handle most of the initial inquiries, serving more people and saving time and money in the process.
- Virtual reality. Video chats are effective for most forms of communication, but sometimes navigating together in a 3D environment is even better. In the distant future, dating may include interaction in a virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) space. It could be a way of preserving the “human connection” element of health or simply providing better care.
- Real-time care. Wearables and diagnostic tools will be able to send a constant flow of information to healthcare providers, resulting in a real-time data source from which providers can make important decisions. If someone is going through a life-threatening situation, a healthcare provider can respond immediately.
- The dissolution of “telehealth.Over time, “telehealth” will be a strange concept because technology is so ubiquitous that it becomes the norm. Telehealth technology will be a normal and accepted part of healthcare.
Together these effects will lead to:
- Greater acceptance from the public. Better technology will lead to greater public acceptance. More people will be on board with remote health services, and the demand will increase.
- Greater accessibility. Cheaper and ubiquitous technology also has the potential to increase accessibility. It will be in the hands of more health care providers, more people will have new ways of obtaining health care, and there will be more provisions in insurance policies to provide that care.
- Lower costs. Technology has been driving down healthcare costs for decades, and that trend will only accelerate.
- Best results. Almost every aspect of our current system has the potential to be better and produce better results with better and more integrated technology.
When people see these benefits, it will inspire even more ingenuity, investment, and buy-in, resulting in a positive feedback loop that keeps the industry growing.
Telehealth and telemedicine will almost certainly continue to progress for years and decades to come, but how or when they will become the new normal is unclear. It is an industry that is young, with a lot of potential, so it is important to keep an eye on it if you are a doctor, investor or simply someone interested in better health results.