Telehealth transformation and the rise of virtual care
By Catherine Barras
What was once a future vision of telehealth is now a reality. In many areas around the world, patients no longer must call to make a doctor appointment, go into an office, fill out paperwork and continue with in-person follow-up appointments. Instead technology innovations allow them to access the care they need without having to step outside their homes.
Many countries have started to reform how their healthcare systems are organized, delivered and distributed to achieve the quadruple aim of healthcare: enhancing patient experiences, enabling better outcomes, improving staff’s ability to carry out tasks, and lowering costs.
Healthcare providers are making these strides by modernizing applications, a critical layer of the Enterprise Technology Stack. With new integrated care models and funding, healthcare delivery networks are aligning their services in graded levels, enabled by digital and virtual capabilities.
Shifting into the future of care
We have seen a dramatic leap in healthcare providers’ applying technologies in innovative ways over the past several months. Many now use collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom to remotely consult with their patients, as well as mobile-based platforms that incorporate machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. Chatbots help these providers’ patients self-assess their symptoms and locate nearby tests or care centers.
From screening and triage to diagnosis, treatment and recovery support, many opportunities exist to optimize care via digital tools. Solutions from AI companies including Infermedica and Ada can be deployed to help patients get a better care orientation, virtually when appropriate.
Some companies are offering AI-based tools to automate monitoring of patients’ vital statistics such as heart rate, temperature, blood pressure and oxygen saturation. Examples include Binah.ai , which uses AI and signal processing to measure patients’ vitals via a smartphone’s camera, and Biofourmis. Its AI-powered RPM platform for personalized predictive care has been deployed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in Singapore to remotely monitor patients who have tested positive for the virulent virus that has engulfed the world.
Holistic care with virtual care platforms
To support virtual care capabilities in a holistic way, enterprise virtual care platforms are emerging, with more and more healthcare chief information officers planning investments in them. Some industry experts expect virtual encounters to exceed face-to-face delivery encounters by 2023, resulting in a dramatic realignment of clinical care and health IT.
Such virtual care platforms include remote patient monitoring (RPM) solutions, which are rapidly approaching mainstream adoption. RPM can help to reduce (re)admissions for patients in recovery and those at greater risk because of existing chronic diseases.
The healthcare system in Region Puglia in Italy provides an example of the use of a virtual care platform. It has set up special units called USCA (Special Units to Assistance in Continuity) to help patients receive coordinated and home-based care. Originally created to support patients with cancer and rare diseases, the units have expanded to provide at-home monitoring of patients forced into quarantine who are frail but do not need hospitalization. The range of new digital components provides fast triage and allows general practitioners (GPs) and the care coordinators of the regional control center to monitor patients simply, easily and securely. For example:
- A web application helps with an initial self-diagnosis. The questionnaires are monitored by GPs who contact patients if there are concerns. GPs can do a pre-triage by teleconsultation. The objective is to control the number of patients in hospitals.
- A secure web portal for healthcare operators enables providers to analyze and categorize the information provided by individuals during pre-triage by severity and risk level. This enables the USCA teams to plan specialized home interventions, from testing to treatment.
- A telemonitoring service helps providers oversee patient status, minimizing the risk of uncontrolled deterioration.
Connecting the new and the traditional
This forward movement is critically important. The focus must now turn to integrating these new processes with clinical and administrative systems and portals for patients and staff.
The big trend in the healthcare industry today is to complement the core electronic health record (EHR) capabilities with a modern digital health platform, enabling a more agile and innovative healthcare organization. The first step will be to ensure that the platform has the capacity to issue — and receive — customized alerts that will take into consideration individual patient needs and drive appropriate intervention. Early intervention based on those customized alerts can have a dramatic impact on the success of a patient’s recovery, particularly when time is critical.
It will also be important to have an aggregated view of information, with AI-powered insights to deliver more value. In reality, organizations will likely have many different tools in place to ensure a smooth process for the patient; the key is to have the process be just as smooth behind the scenes. This is now possible with modern platforms and composite architectures, just like those that Google, Facebook and thousands of others use.
Get ready now. Virtual care, mobile digital platforms for patient engagement, care collaboration and coordination built on a strong, interoperable platform are critical digital enablers of future healthcare models.
About Catherine Barras:
With a track record in healthcare digital transformation advisory, innovation, strategy and business case development, Catherine has more than 17 years of experience in the healthcare industry and 25 years in IT overall. Today, she leads Dedalus’ Global Consulting and Solutioning services. Previously, Catherine led DXC’s Healthcare and Life Sciences advisory services, and the Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) Europe & Middle East healthcare industry sector. She is passionate about helping customers transform and improve care efficiency and outcomes through innovative technology, while developing and executing digital transformation programs and IT strategies.