By Perry Price, Revation Systems
To say that technology has had a strong influence on the healthcare industry in the last two decades is almost an understatement. Telehealth has developed considerably in the last few years, and its capabilities today look far different from they did 20 years ago — when it consisted of more basic communication functionalities, like SMS text or web chat.
Advancements in digital technology have shifted telehealth to include new technology from virtual visits via video to the ability to leverage tone analysis on calls involving remote treatment. Telehealth is gaining momentum and is already impacting the care of countless patients around the world. In the U.S., for example, the American Hospital Association published a report in February 2019 that found 76 percent of hospitals in the country connect with patients and consulting practitioners at a distance through the use of video and other technology.
Almost every state Medicaid program now has some form of coverage for telehealth services while private payers are embracing coverage for many telehealth services. Though these statistics demonstrate the popularity and usage of telehealth today, the American Hospital Association’s report acknowledges the barriers of its widespread adoption.
As telehealth continues to advance and spread in its adoption, health IT directors who wish to keep pace must hold the following insights in mind: adoption is expanding to the senior population due to changes in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) policies; artificial intelligence (AI) is shifting the new standard of patient experience; and smartwatch devices are becoming more significant in remote care delivery.
Telehealth’s Expansion To Medicare Beneficiaries
As innovations continue to advance telehealth’s capabilities, legislation in the U.S. is beginning to follow suit. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 included major changes for telehealth policy in Medicare by incorporating policies from the Senate’s Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act, which was passed in February 2018. These legislative changes illustrate telehealth’s importance and priority in the coming years. New legislation aims to improve access and quality of care for Medicaid beneficiaries — especially those who suffer from chronic conditions. Additionally, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 gives Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) the ability to expand their use of telehealth solutions.
Due to increased government support of telehealth expansion for the growing senior population as well, this year is likely to see advancements specific to medical issues that seniors face, such as strokes. Hospital systems are adopting telehealth treatment strategies for stroke patients, as new technology in this area can dramatically impact survival rate. Many hospitals in rural areas also lack the appropriate type of specialists, i.e., neurologists, to provide adequate and timely care for patients suffering from a stroke.
Stroke telehealth (now being called telestroke) is bridging the gap in care by using video to consult with a specialist in real-time — as time is critical in the care of a stroke patient. In addition to providing timely, appropriate care for stroke patients, telestroke solutions are also starting to reduce the need for patients to be transferred from one facility to another. This helps to ensure consistent, quality care and a better patient experience.
Seniors who suffer from chronic illness(es) should expect significant improvements in their care with the recent changes in telehealth legislation as well. Remote monitoring devices are improving in their ability to manage symptoms with advancements in technology. Care continuity for chronically ill patients can be greatly enhanced by the utilization of telehealth solutions. Using telehealth to bridge gaps in knowledge regarding a patient’s history between providers can particularly improve patient health outcomes overall.
AI For Elevated Patient Experience
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is another major factor influencing telehealth today. The AI healthcare market is expected to hit $6.6 billion by 2021. Numerous healthcare organizations are already using a mixture of unified communications (UC) and AI to offer an enhanced patient experience as well as improved care. For example, many healthcare systems are beginning to use UC and AI solutions to extend their hours of service for patient scheduling and nurse triage. Chatbot technology is being used to streamline routine communications, like questions about common medical symptoms and scheduling appointments in real time.
AI technology is not only improving the patient experience — it is simultaneously freeing up the providers’ time and resulting in better care. AI’s impact on telehealth will only continue to grow as new technologies enter the marketplace. A recent Accenture report predicted that clinical health AI applications can potentially create $150 billion in annual savings for the U.S. healthcare economy by 2026.
Increased Capabilities Of Smartwatches
The popularity of wearable devices and smartwatches is also evidence of the positive impact that telehealth can have on a patient’s care. The latest in smartwatch technology provides practical benefits to today’s patients, especially those monitoring a chronic condition, because wearable devices now offer more robust health features — including detection of irregular heart rhythms, recording of electrocardiogram (ECG), measuring glucose levels for diabetic patients and even analyzing sleep and stress levels.
In addition to a heightened focus on developing capabilities that help patients gain better awareness of their overall health, the communication of the data that’s gathered by a wearable device/smartwatch to a healthcare provider is the next step in applying wearable technology to improve care. Wearable devices can be used to remotely monitor a patient after beginning a new medication, with alerts sent to a nurse or doctor to provide updates if the patient’s condition becomes critical. Although the big players in the smartwatch industry such as Apple or Fitbit have yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the FDA has announced a digital health software pre-certification pilot program to streamline what is traditionally a slow regulatory process to approve software-based health features.
In the years ahead, telehealth is sure to influence the healthcare industry even more, having a positive impact on the care of patients at a larger scale.
About The Author
Perry Price is CEO/president of Revation Systems. In this role, Price builds and grows the customer base, recruits qualified talent, and streamlines internal operations. Price utilizes his deep domain expertise in IP networking and communication applications, including telephony, unified communications, call-center technologies, and messaging.