Despite years of anticipation for ubiquitous access to telehealth services, adoption has remained slow. Regulatory issues have been a significant barrier, but those are finally falling away. That is a good thing, since a Lenovo study found that almost half of their survey audience believe that technology will be “critical” to transforming healthcare. At this juncture, it is imperative for technology companies to understand the demand and desire for direct-to-consumer (DTC) telehealth. They also must prepare to implement a technology platform that can incorporate next-gen technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots, genomics, and sensors, and effectively support the massive amounts of data required for those applications.
As Amelia Bischoff, MHA, director of Digital Health Services for Prisma Health in Columbia, SC, shares, patients and organizations can benefit significantly from telehealth.
“On the patient side, it creates new access points, high-quality outcomes, and faster time to treatment,” she shared. “For providers, it increases patient attraction and retention, and clinician attraction and retention.”
This ability to deliver convenience, speed, and a usually low-cost option for online treatment for minor medical conditions also spurs demand, according to Lisa Hines, MBA, former director of telehealth services for Greenville Healthcare System and now Strategic Advisor for Healthcare at NetApp. Increasingly, Americans are shopping around and extensively researching their healthcare options. “As it turns out, they expect a telemedicine option to be available,” said Hines.
From Hines’s perspective, as healthcare organizations move into telehealth, they should be aware of – and prepared to – incorporate emerging technologies into their telehealth offerings.
“The next generation of direct-to-consumer is self-service apps that include artificial intelligence. Patients will be guided through a series of questions, and bots that interpret patient responses and will provide important data to the clinical provider, who is connected to the patient after the Q & A,” Hines explained. “These intelligent algorithms help improve access to care and facilitate its efficient delivery.”
Bischoff foresees chatbots being used as “conversational agents” that mimic human speech to simulate a written conversation or interaction with a real person.
“Advancements in natural language processing and machine learning in healthcare are making it possible to use chatbots for more than just customer service. Now they can deliver clinical services like patient navigation, medical appointment scheduling, intakes and triaging to the most appropriate care service and location. Chatbots improve patient wayfinding, increase overall patient experience, and help organizations increase operational efficiencies,” she explained.
The augmentation of telehealth through emerging technologies will create an even deeper dependence on IT infrastructure to ensure that physicians and healthcare professionals practicing telemedicine are supported with the secure, integrated, and reliable transmission of voice and audio data. In addition, Hines said that it is critical that the underlying infrastructure for telemedicine initiatives include the proper storage capacity, speed, and scale for these new frontiers.
“Remotely collecting physiological patient data will drastically increase the amount of data to be managed, analyzed, and turned into actional insights facilitated by virtual care,” she said. “As a result, the data pipeline required to support real-time clinical data analytics and telemedicine will require an enterprise data management solution that efficiently and seamlessly manages data across deployment borders.”
One example is the use of a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to improve physician productivity by reducing the amount of time a physician must take to log into and out of different types of computers and applications. Hines says that by centralizing data and access controls, doctors and nurses have fewer sign-on steps and patient data follows them wherever they go. She added, “these emerging telehealth technologies and services, along with centralization and enterprise management, will enable organizations to streamline disparate supporting systems and drive deep integration into redesigned clinical workflows.”
With patients demanding more access to healthcare, and providers and payers looking to control costs, it appears that telehealth’s moment has finally arrived. In order to live up to expectations of patients and providers healthcare systems would be wise to follow in the footsteps of organizations like Prisma Health that have built successful telehealth practices. At the heart of their success is not only a team of talented medical providers but a partnership with a trusted technology partner. “Technology is changing so quickly at present, particularly with AI, that trying to navigate the future of telehealth alone would be a great challenge, indeed,” concluded Hines. “But in working together these pioneering organizations will pave the way for more virtual health innovation and accelerated adoption.”