Technology has impacted numerous industries in the last five years, with the healthcare industry being the topic of much discussion. As buzzwords such as “digital transformation” and “patient experience” continue to be used in reference to the shifting atmosphere of the healthcare industry, telehealth has become a key player in the new game of patient care.
As reported by the American Hospital Association, 65 percent of U.S. hospitals connect with patients and consulting practitioners remotely through the use of video and other technology; and almost every state Medicaid program has some form of coverage for telehealth services — indicating the popularity that telehealth has gained as its accessibility has increased over the past decade.
From wearable devices that track everything from activity, sleep, heart rate and video visits from the comfort of a patient’s own home, technology’s impact on enhancing the quality and convenience of healthcare is quite significant. And although great strides have been made toward implementing telehealth technology to improve and expand care to rural areas and reduce the readmission rates in hospitals, innovation in telehealth has not yet reached a plateau. The new year is likely to bring continued advancements in telehealth technology that will further shape the patient experience in today’s digital society.
Smartwatches are Getting Smarter
If there is any sign that telehealth technology has made its way into daily life, it is the popularity of wearable devices and smartwatches. Sure, smartwatches are increasingly trendy, but not only because of their convenience (i.e. sneaking in a preview of an important email while stuck in a meeting or checking how many steps you have for the day). The latest in smartwatch technology provides more practical benefits to today’s patients and consumers. Wearable device technology now offers more robust health features — like 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 are beginning to 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.
Legislation Ensures Importance of Telehealth
As telehealth technology becomes more widespread and makes a positive impact on the healthcare of millions of patients across the U.S., legislation is beginning to follow. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, for example, includes 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 last February and implies that telehealth is now considered a legislative priority. The legislation aims to improve access and quality of care for Medicaid beneficiaries, particularly those with chronic conditions and aiming toward the prevention of strokes. The act also gives Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) the ability to expand their use of telehealth solutions.
With increased support from the government for the use of telehealth to solve critical issues that exist in our healthcare system today, the year ahead is likely to see expanded capabilities in telehealth technology. Broadened reimbursement for services to Medicare patients is sure to equate to advancements in stroke telemedicine in 2019.
The Mayo Clinic, a world-renowned healthcare system that focuses on research and is based in Rochester, Minn., launched a new mobile assessment of stroke patients that uses tablet devices that are examined by the NIH Stroke Scale while the patient is in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. This mobile assessment is aimed at reducing the time that stroke patients wait to receive treatment — time that is critical in saving neurons in a patient’s brain.
As telehealth continues to advance, its application is sure to be used in ways that can save many lives.