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TECHNEWS · Monday, June 8, 2020

Why Telehealth is now more important than ever

COVID-19 brought operations remotely in several industries including healthcare. Apart from the infected patients, health providers had to take care of all the others – at that point, Telehealth took its most important role.

Telehealth or telemedicine is a healthcare service based on the technology created with an aim to connect patients and health care institutions in order to deliver virtual medical, health, supportive, and educational services.

Usage of information and communication technologies provides the exchange of information for diagnosis and treatment of diseases, injures, medical records search and evaluation, and even a performance of continuing education of health professionals. In this way, patients are not obliged to go to the institutions for medical prescriptions, and appointment scheduling, or wait in a line for diagnosis check and/or support. Having a possibility to virtually conduct screening and treatment of COVID-19 cases was crucial during this pandemic crisis.

Some of the areas that are included, but not limited to, in the term “Telehealth” are dentistry, home health, physical and occupational therapy, counseling, chronic disease monitoring and management, disaster management, consumer and professional education.

Telehealth also has a specially designed policy. For instance according to the California law: “The mode of delivering health care services and public health via information and communication technologies to facilitate the diagnosis, consultation, treatment, education, care management, and self-management of a patient's health care while the patient is at the originating site and the health care provider is at a distant site. Telehealth facilitates patient self-management and caregiver support for patients and includes synchronous interactions and asynchronous store-an- forward transfers.

Tony Buda, CEO of Banyan Medical Systems, highlights that these temporary shifts have paved the way for Telehealth expansion, leading to what he believes will be the next generation of delivery systems in the U.S.

According to Steve Goldberg, a faculty member at the TVLP Institute and venture capitalists at Venrock, "Telehealth has obviously become increasingly important in our “new normal” world with COVID-19. The ubiquitous availability of broadband is clearly one of the key contributions of technology as it relates to telehealth. However, there is still room to improve performance, quality of service, and reliability. The rollout of 5G wireless networks will go a long way to take broadband to the next level".

Why should all governments start thinking about improving Telehealth services? Here are some reasons why Telehealth is important for the future too:
  • Telehealth provides protection both for medical personnel and patients -  a possibility to conduct screening, treatment and follow up virtually during the pandemic was crucial for the protection of medical personnel as the social distances are one of the must issue during this crisis in order to reduce the risk of infection. On the other side, patients who need medical advice could get the one from their homes.
  • Telehealth provides a diagnosis and analysis results reading from anywhere -  this might have a great impact on the work of radiologists, as many are using digital technologies to work from home, and this could allow radiologists to work remotely.
  • Telehealth increases healthcare access in a senior population – as most of the senior population was obliged to stay at home due to the high risk of COVID-19 infection, virtual daily care and disease management were crucial. Keeping low-risk patients at home also helps the medical system from becoming overwhelmed.
  • Telehealth provides an instance of mental support – the pandemic caused many mental disorders and an increased number of people that require an appointment with psychiatrists. Online counseling could have a crucial impact on decreasing levels of stress and anxiety.

Telehealth enables transmission of voice, data, images, and information between a doctor and a patient, improving the equity of access to the healthcare services. It is opening the possibility to be connected with other technologies. "I think the combination of Telehealth with AI has the potential to provide higher quality healthcare to a much wider population. There are only so many doctors and much of the healthcare need is in triage and initial identification of problems. AI and AI-based support for illness and disease identification and early intervention should be a huge benefit to our healthcare system", highlights Steve Goldberg.

Apart from being timeliness and convenient, Telehealth reduces travel costs on the one side and makes patients becoming more active in their own health and wellbeing, on the other. We have mentioned just a few reasons why Telehealth should be an integral part of eHealth programs and why should governments pursue in developing it. It is a necessary present and a future of the healthcare service.

Contributors are Tijana Kovijanić and Steve Goldberg of the TVLP Institute
Questions for Tijana and Steve: National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

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