Future of healthcare care using the lens of telehealth
For a long time, the promises of telehealth were held by a few those who believed it had the potential to improve access, create higher quality outcomes and increase satisfaction among patients. Similar to what Amazon has done with online retail, it was a chance for telehealth to transform the way patients receive their healthcare. However, the adoption process was fraught with doubt and skepticism. At the pressure of a pandemic spreading across the globe, the medical profession shifted its focus to the realities of treating patients at a distance. Fast forward, a whole new age of healthcare was born.
Telehealth isn’t the hammer to every nail. It’s an enabler of strategies that facilitates rapid access to health care and integrated service delivery and the capacity to manage limited resources…while simultaneously serving a consumer-centric marketplace focused on convenience, accessibility and value. This is what the banking and airline industry has practiced for decades.
One-in-five Americans live in what’s known as a primary healthcare “desert,” meaning a lack of healthcare professionals and services. In addition, as the life expectancy grows and baby boomers grow older, and the demand for medical care increases, the need for medical services increases. Technology advancements, coupled with the positive developments in regulation and payment parity, have finally enabled the telehealth industry to reach beyond doctors’ offices. Even for doctors using telehealth, it has proven to reduce no-shows, improve the quality of care, and tackle health disparities for the under-served.
This is the reason pioneers such as The Arizona Telemedicine Program have been able to succeed for many years. Telehealth is essential for the majority of the population living in rural areas. For the rest of us in Massachusetts, it’s an option. However, it is also the place we as a species are headed towards. We have become experts at communicating online with friends and family and school and work during the time of quarantines. Thus, the move to a virtual doctor’s visit could be an obvious extension of the previous. Telehealth might be a solution for a problem, but it discovered one… a huge one. Now it’s in the game to stay.
Telehealth isn’t new. We have been using various forms of telehealth over the last fifteen years here at UMass Memorial. Our clinicians have been able to supervise the care of patients with severe illnesses and stroke patients not just within our hospital but also in the community hospitals throughout the region.
Enter COVID-19. Telehealth has become a must for us to safely ensure the charge of patients. With the reduction of office visits, telehealth services allowed our patients continuous access to their medical professionals. In hospitals, we utilize it to monitor patients remotely who require constant monitoring and occasional solicitation. We’ve expanded telehealth consults for stroke, neurology dermatology, and other specialties to nearby hospitals, offering faster and more efficient access. By utilizing the Hospital at Home program, our doctors have daily telehealth visits that complement the twice-a-day visits to their homes with our nursing staff.
Telehealth is only a tiny part of how we provide health care today.
We believe that this is only the beginning. For patients suffering from high blood pressure or sugar levels that require monitoring, some devices will automatically transfer their data to us to monitor them whenever needed rather than waiting until their next visit. This allows us to review these data, communicate with the patient’s provider, and suggest adjustments to the treatment plan more quickly.
The same applies to heart care. Patients carry monitors in their pockets and send information to their medical team when connected to their smartphones.
There are plans to make all hospital rooms accessible via telehealth so that doctors can dial into the room as needed and family members can visit patients via video.
And there’s more to be discovered. We aim to provide the highest quality treatment to our clients in the most efficient method possible while keeping an eye on cost savings, convenience, and high-quality medical healthcare.
David Smith is an associate vice head of virtual medicine. Dr. Eric Alper is a senior vice president and chief quality officer, and chief clinical information director for UMass Memorial Health.