2020 brought the crucial nature of virtual care to the forefront of healthcare delivery. From mitigating the spread of the coronavirus to connecting isolated patients and providing care for non-COVID patients, we have seen validation of telehealth under the most extreme circumstances as healthcare organizations grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth is now a critical component of care delivery, not just a “nice-to-have.”
How Telehealth is Shaping the Future of Healthcare
As we look ahead to the future of telehealth medicine, virtual care will continue to lay the fundamental foundation needed to enable agile and effective care with the right clinician, at the right time, and in the right location for patients. Inpatient care will increasingly be imbued with virtual components that improve productivity, patient outcomes, and provider experience.
A wide range of patient engagements will employ a digital-first strategy designed to bring costs down, improve patient satisfaction, and make the entire experience more convenient for the patient and caregiver alike. Telehealth will be reinforced with a new era of predictive tools and applications that augment the information available to improve overall outcomes.
In 2021, the blending of artificial or augmented intelligence (AI), wearables, and two-way video will advance virtual patient care. The combination of these technologies into a comprehensive virtual platform will help providers improve population health and outcomes across more patients as they extend the hospital room outside of the physical facility and into patients’ homes.
First and foremost, virtual care will continue to drive efficiency in inpatient care. AI will play a tremendous role in enhancing clinical insight and enabling care for more patients, in spite of challenges related to limited staff resources. Although artificial intelligence gets the lion’s share of attention in the world of healthcare innovation, it is essential that we do not underestimate the importance of the human element in the marriage of healthcare technology and care delivery. Rather than refer to it as artificial intelligence we prefer to focus on the concept that, in reality, it is augmented information.
Investments in augmented information are equally important as a steppingstone in complementing and enhancing the existing workflows of clinicians. Nothing can replace a knowledgeable, experienced caregiver, but how much more effective can they be if we augment the information they have at their fingertips? Continuous virtual monitoring of patients, data capture through wearables, and access to predictive algorithms that can help providers anticipate conditions affecting the patient’s outcome can combine to improve care.
Hospital at Home
The acceleration of telehealth and virtual care to address how to provide services to patients unable to visit their doctors during the pandemic has proven virtual care is not only viable but often the preferred option. As a result, hospitals are looking for ways to extend the healthcare engagement experience into the patient home. While this has largely been pursued out of necessity in order to reach patients isolating at home during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is also fueled by evolving patient expectations around easier access to care.
Virtual care models represent the modern-day equivalent of the home visit or house call of the past. Technology platforms and an array of connected devices will become permanent fixtures in our homes, as common as connected thermostats or doorbells. These virtual care solutions offer a cost-effective means for reducing some of the overhead commonly associated with hospital stays, as well as increased convenience and comfort for patients. Home-based care has the added advantage of minimizing exposure to infected patients by the healthcare staff.
Wearables in Healthcare
The proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and wearables as a growing trend will have an impact on virtual care an telehealth in coming years. Wearables such as smart watches, fitness trackers, biosensors, ECGs, and blood pressure monitors represent some of the first home-health devices to approach ubiquity. Remote technologies that consistently measure and monitor patient vitals can accelerate provider insight into patient risk factors.
By proactively alerting care providers to warning signs, clinicians are able to intervene earlier to prevent adverse or catastrophic events—again offering patients the right care at the right time. These interactive devices can also encourage patients to make better health decisions in real-time. The rise of these “digital medicine cabinet” technologies will unearth previously untapped avenues for healthcare providers to advance the shift from responsive or reactive care to more proactive and preventive medical interventions. Management of access to and the security of these devices will be paramount.
What is the Future of Telehealth?
Each of these components have had varied success to date in individual use cases, but the real power and benefit will come from combining them into a comprehensive virtual care platform. Over the course of the past year, utilization of telehealth has clearly reached incredible levels and has established a new normal which is anticipated to remain even after the pandemic is over. Now is the time to optimize these technologies and prepare for growth.
Not only has virtual care helped us deal more effectively with the pandemic, but we have been given a glimpse of what the future of telehealth and telemedicine can be. The digital revolution in healthcare has begun and leveraging two-way video, wearables, and augmented information will enable us to create a better patient experience, improve outcomes, and be more prepared for the next challenge that might come.
The benefits of virtual care have been on full display in 2020 and as we move into 2021 and beyond it is clear that there is no limit to the ways telehealth can positively impact the overall experience and outcomes across the entire healthcare continuum.
Want to learn more? Check out our post on Augmented Intelligence in Telehealth.
This post was originally published on Population Health