In recent years, many technology-based solutions targeted at increasing the efficiency of the workflow have been widely integrated into healthcare. The adoption of online pharmacies, Telehealth, online lab booking, smart RFID tags, etc., are few solutions that have been incorporated in the operation of various divisions like clinics, Point of Sale (POS), pharma manufacturing, medical stores, among others.
The increased awareness about digital solutions in healthcare in general and Telehealth, in particular, have contributed to the surge in demand for Telehealth services. Therefore many clinics are now looking for Telehealth app development. Telehealth has many benefits for diverse patient groups such as rural patients, patients with a chronic disease, etc.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth is an umbrella term that covers many aspects of digital health-related solutions. It consists of Telemedicine, Teleconsultation, Telemonitoring, Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM), etc. Teleconsultation is used for screening of new diseases, and Telemonitoring is used for monitoring of chronic diseases. Telemedicine refers to the platform that allows the doctor and the patient to interact. Telehealth also includes non-clinical administrative tools for patient and provider training. Usage of electronic devices for the treatment of patients also falls under this category.
What is a Chronic Disease?
A disease that lasts for three months or longer is generally classified as a chronic disease. Examples of chronic diseases include obesity, Type 2 diabetes, Asthma, Mental illness, and heart disease.
Challenges Faced By Chronic Patients:
Sometimes, patients need to travel a long distance to visit the doctor. Patients with chronic conditions tend to have trouble traveling long distances and remain seated during the travel. Problems with mobility, poor health infrastructure, or their own health condition may make it more difficult to visit doctors frequently.
This problem is made even worse by the fact that the prevalence of chronic conditions increases with an increase in age, which means that the elderly population has the greatest risk for carrying chronic diseases.
Frequency of Follow-up Visits And Cost:
The number of follow-up visits is higher for chronic patients. This drives up the cost even higher.
Another major challenge is that the patients need to monitor their blood pressure levels and blood sugar levels by themselves throughout the course of the treatment.
How Telehealth Solves Unique Challenges Faced By Chronic Patients?
All these worrying trends have compelled healthcare providers to look for solutions that reduce the cost of chronic disease management without compromising the quality of care.
Telehealth offers one such promising approach. It is now seen as the most encouraging technology for chronic disease management as it reduces the frequency and sometimes needs of in-person visits.
As the number of patients with chronic conditions grows each year, it is essential to ensure these patients have regular access to healthcare. Otherwise, it will deteriorate health outcomes. Telehealth has the potential to reverse the surge in chronic diseases. It improves chronic disease management by making it easy for patients to be in touch with their doctor, reducing chances of a lapse in treatment, and ultimately reducing the burden on health infrastructure.
Reduction Of In-person Visits:
- Very few Telehealth visits require further in-person inspection. As this paper in Neurology claims that only 5% of patients needed further in-person examination.
- For chronic patients particularly, the doctor has a good understanding of the patients, as they are frequent visitors. The doctors are therefore aware of their overall health, and in-person visits are not required.
- The chairman of Narayan Hrudayalaya and a cardiac surgeon Dr. Devi Shetty opine that "In 99% of cases, the patient does not require an operation. So the doctor does not need to inspect the patient or even be there physically. Since most healthcare management decisions rely on history and interpretation of past cases, most of the issues can often be managed by Telehealth."
Via Telehealth, doctors can utilize mobile devices and other smart digital tools to monitor a patient's condition remotely. Telehealth delivers care remotely and timely.
This is immensely beneficial for chronic patients. Wearable devices are utilizing advanced electronic sensors and cloud-based technologies to monitor activity and send information to the caregiver in real-time. This extends continuous care to the patients' homes.
GPS sensors, pill reminding apps, activity monitors, Bluetooth enabled medical devices coupled with remote communication devices to keep track of the state of a patient and update the doctor about it regularly.
Convenient and Cost-effective:
Telehealth can also help in making chronic-disease care systems less expensive, thus helping more patients to access affordable healthcare. The convenience and cost-effectiveness of Telehealth have boosted its adoption rate significantly.
Easy Storage of Medical Records:
Telehealth enables clinics to store and disseminate medical records. Easy access to patient records allows doctors to analyze patient reports conveniently.
Telehealth also opens avenues of providing specialized care locally by enabling local doctors to collaborate with experts. This opens the door to technology transfer between doctors across the globe and revenue sharing between hospitals. This is often described as "decentralized care."
VR (Virtual Reality) is well poised to enable doctors to perform virtual operations. The doctors can prescribe treatment aided by VR.
Urmimala Sarkar, MD, MPH and a professor at the University of California San Francisco, says that "The unique ability of virtual reality to create an immersive and interactive environment has the potential to be a cost-effective strategy to deliver pain management for diverse patients, in the time and place of their choosing."
Technologies like 5G enable the patients to use high bandwidth services like VR. They can improve the stability of the connection and reduce telecommunication breakdowns.
The overlap of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented reality (AR), and VR can allow doctors to perform real-time simulations and assess the risk of various approaches to a procedure. Clinicians can take virtual risks to improve the real-world outcome of a situation. This way, VR enables them to make informed decisions. It can also advance imaging visualization and rendering.
Biofeedback and Immersive touch sensors have also been successfully integrated with controlled laboratory settings to get real-time feedback virtually.
Telehealth is especially beneficial for chronic patients as it improves follow-up care, remote monitoring, and virtual visits. It also ensures better accessibility and allows health service providers to treat patients remotely.