Can telehealth change global healthcare?

16th September 2019
Lanna Cooper

Hospital decision-makers can promote improved health outcomes by advocating for the deployment of telehealth tools and practices. In a recent World Economic Forum Expose, Philips Electronics CEO Vitor Rocha recounted a time in Brazil when where you lived significantly impacted your ability to access quality healthcare.

To this day, 75% of Brazilian nationals do not have access to health insurance. Resultantly, for many uninsured Brazilian residents waiting in long lines for essential public health services is a familiar routine.

In the US, an individual’s ability to secure health insurance and where they live are key determiners of quality of care. Rural residents don’t have the same access to the latest treatments as their urban counterparts.

United States healthcare spending generates 18% of the nation’s gross domestic product, nearly twice that of other developed countries. Nevertheless, the treatment outcomes for American citizens are no better than those of other nations.

Resultantly, many healthcare decision-makers are exploring the use of telemedicine as a solution for increasing access to quality healthcare.

Laying the foundation for telemedicine

Experts forecast that the global biosensor market will near $30bn by the year 2020. Technological innovation is one of several key factors that will influence the future healthcare landscape, according to McKinsey management consulting.

Researchers have made several remarkable breakthroughs in the field. Advances in fitness tracking, prosthetics and remote diagnostics are reshaping the delivery of healthcare. Also, a growing number of consumers have adopted the use of wellness apps in fitness trackers.

Today, healthcare providers are encouraging patients to take better care of themselves. Now, medical professionals are placing more emphasis on preventative care to reduce illness and improve community health.

Analysts forecast that technology such as 3D printed medical devices will generate nearly $2bn by the year 2022. In the same year, researchers expect the global biosensor and tracker market to reach nearly $30bn. By 2025, they expect the nanomedicine market to surpass $350bn.

As the market for advanced medical technology continues to evolve, physicians will gain access to a wealth of patient information generated by IoT-connected prosthetics and medical implants. Furthermore, the growing adoption of fitness trackers will enable physicians to manage chronic diseases better as well as develop personalised treatment plans, diagnose illnesses early and even prevent some diseases entirely.

A look at telehealth technology

Telemedicine enables care providers to treat remote patients. According to the American Telemedicine Association, it’s the next logical stage for healthcare treatment in an increasingly digital world.

Today, nearly everyone has a smartphone. Fewer people are buying PCs as the mobile device market continues to steal market share from all but the most prominent computer manufacturers.

With the eventual rollout of 5G cellular technology, a smartphone-enabled population will have the ability to videoconference easily. While society ramps up toward the reality of a 5G mobile device infrastructure capable of previously unheard of speed, legislators are already tackling security and privacy issues regarding consumer medical information. The combination of these influences sets the stage for a telehealth-empowered caregiving environment.

Telehealth is more than videoconferencing, according to the Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP). It's a collection of medical devices and practices designed to improve community health outcomes. The CCHP classifies telehealth under four headings:

  1. Information storing and forwarding
  2. Mobile health
  3. Remote patient monitoring
  4. Videoconferencing

The aging population will expand to 100 million people by 2060, according to the Administration for Community Living. Meanwhile, companies are already building out the infrastructure to support the healthcare videoconferencing platforms that are intended to serve the aging population.

Simultaneously, enterprises that offer other telehealth innovations - such as HIPAA compliant storage and health monitoring wearables - are emerging to serve this rapidly expanding demographic.

Making progress in the right places

Telehealth may serve as a solution for providing accessible healthcare services to the aging population as the healthcare provider shortage worsens and consumers look for more ways to slash medical spending. Around the world, a growing number of underserved consumers may find that telehealth is the answer for gaining access to quality healthcare.

In the future, telehealth may create a win-win caregiving environment. Patients will become able to access healthcare services no matter where they live, and a shrinking pool of caregivers will become equipped to serve a broader patient base.

Telemedicine may soon transform the caregiving environment. Consumers may soon find it more common to access essential healthcare services from the comfort of their homes. With a conventional device such as the smartphone, nearly everyone may gain access to medical services in the telehealth-powered future.

The infrastructure for telemedicine is either in place or in development. However, telemedicine isn’t just about technology; it’s also about people and practices.

For the promise of telemedicine to come to fruition, medical leaders must advocate for the adoption of the technology among various healthcare provider networks. Some healthcare advocates are already leading the charge.

For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched the Department of digital health to support the deployment of telehealth technology. Among other things, the subsidiary has published the 'WHO Guideline: recommendations on digital interventions for health system strengthening'. As more enterprises emerge to serve the telehealth industry, they can use the guide to inform organisational decision-making and plan how to market to a digitally savvy consumer base.

Surprisingly, many of our nation’s veterans face challenges in securing health insurance as well as accessing quality healthcare services. Veterans can find out more about available insurance and telehealth services using online resources such as MyHealtheVet and inTransition. The sites serve the healthcare-related needs of former enlisted personnel.

The Veterans Administration is pursuing avenues to use telehealth technology to improve access to health care for veterans. For any group that has problems accessing healthcare, telemedicine can make quality healthcare available - no matter where patients live.

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