Telehealth is the way forward and digital services will close the loop between consultation and services, writes Meera Murugesan
THE World Health Organisation describes telehealth as the use of telecommunications and virtual technology to deliver healthcare outside of traditional healthcare facilities.
It extends the reach of high-quality care and in-depth expertise to places like the home, as well as to remote and underserved communities.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that healthcare is in need of not just tweaking, but significant change.
A totally different approach to how healthcare is organised, delivered and distributed will be paramount post Covid-19, says Philips Malaysia country manager Muhammad Ali Jaleel.
Beyond this pandemic, hospitals around the world will face and continue to face burdens in terms of capacity, especially in ageing societies, he explains.
"One of the most apparent shifts we've seen is how Covid-19 is spurring the move to telehealth. To help deliver quality care and minimise risk to patients and staff, telehealth capabilities and digital technology that allow virtual care and remote patient monitoring are on the rise," he says.
While the industry is still relatively new, it is estimated that the global telehealth market will reach US$19.5 billion by 2025.
With the ability to change the current dynamics of healthcare delivery and make way for improved access and outcome in cost effective ways, telehealth allows remote patients to obtain clinical services.
Telehealth enables a limited pool of healthcare professionals to reach and care for a large number of patients at different physical locations.
Take Covid-19 as an example, says Muhammad Ali.
Since Covid-19 is predominantly a respiratory illness, patients with more severe cases may require ICU care.
In the intensive care unit, a scarcity of critical-care intensivists and bed availability can compromise efficient patient flow throughout the hospital.
Healthcare institutions need digital tools to manage the increased patient flow resulting from the Covid-19 outbreak and dedicated, scalable telehealth solutions that facilitate the use of online screening, follow-up questionnaires and monitoring, and external call centre collaboration.
These remote screening solutions support healthcare institutes to diagnose and treat patients at alternative points of care and help safeguard the scarce critical care capacity.
For example, tele-ICU or eICU enables a co-located team of intensivists and critical care nurses to remotely monitor patients in the ICU regardless of patient location.
Intensivists and nurses based in a telehealth eICU hub are supported by high-definition cameras, telemetry, predictive analytics, data visualisation and advanced reporting capabilities in order to support their frontline colleagues.
They help care teams to proactively intervene at an earlier stage or to decide which patients have stabilised and can be transferred, allowing limited ICU beds to be allocated to more acute patients.
A whole range of innovative new ideas and coping strategies are currently being tested in different countries around the world, says Muhammad Ali.
WHAT TO EXPECT
In the near future, we could see digital services closing the loop between consultations and the dispatch of care or prescription drugs — drones as vehicles for getting drugs to patients or robots disinfecting contaminated areas, apps and chat-bots that act as symptom checkers and provide up-to-the-minute travel and infection control advice, medical wearables that monitor patients at home and 5G-enabled cameras that check for symptoms in seconds.
Muhammad Ali says although these innovations won't play global roles in the situation we are in right now, we should keep an eye on these developments.
It may well be that many health systems go back to the drawing board to improve their care based on today's experiences.
Covid-19 shook the foundation of healthcare systems around the world – some were more prepared than others, he adds.
The pandemic not only highlighted the significant gaps in technological adoption, funding and support, but it also demonstrated how the healthcare industry can benefit substantially from the adoption of readily available technology.
"We are now in the fortunate position that restrictions are being lifted gradually, but our commitment to improving the healthcare industry should not waver especially with an ageing population and rising chronic diseases. Embracing innovation is essential in the healthcare sector. Only this way, we can future-proof our healthcare system."
TELEHEALTH FOR HOSPITAL AND HOME
PHILIPS' telehealth solutions cover two aspects.
First, hospital telehealth. It's in-hospital telehealth programmes support advanced care delivery models through a unique combination of technology, clinical expertise and support that enables improved clinical and financial outcomes.
The second aspect is home telehealth, where Philips ambulatory telehealth programmes provide a daily connection between post-acute caregivers and patients, utilising technology and clinical processes to expand access, improve outcomes and provide a better experience for patients.
Source: New Straits Times