As we enter the new decade, telemedicine usage shows no signs of slowing down. In the four years spanning 2014 to 2018, telehealth usage outside the hospital setting increased by nearly 1,400%. The data predicts telemedicine will be a $13 billion market in the U.S. alone by 2023. Given these trends, what kinds of telehealth-related headlines made the news last month as we entered the New Year? Here’s what happened in the telemedicine industry in January 2020.
Remote Temperature Monitoring for Coronavirus
January started with a new health scare in China, the coronavirus. By the end of the month, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the flu-like disease to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. As the virus continued to spread, the United States declared a public health emergency and restricted air travel from the country.
But one company is making a difference in the spread of the disease by using remote monitoring to protect caregivers. Last month Mobihealth News reported that a new startup company partnered with the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center (SPHCC) to use their continuous temperature sensor to fight the spread of illness. One of the key challenges of fighting any disease outbreak is how to limit patient-to-patient and even patient-to-provider contact. Telemedicine technology in the form of remote sensors can be used to check the patient’s temperature, instead of requiring the caregiver to enter the room of the infected patient. A remote monitoring device now can be placed on a patient, allowing for real-time continuous monitoring of vital signs, including temperature. This eliminates exposure and risk to the caregiver, potentially halting the spread of major illnesses.
Telehealth Improves Palliative Care
MHealth Intelligence reported last month on a new telehealth initiative to improve care coordination for hospice patients. The provider, TRU Community Care, is a hospice organization in Colorado with a long track record of providing end-of-life care. The firm adopted telemedicine to increase the efficiency of their home care services for terminally ill patients. Their goals were to increase their efforts to monitor vital patient information each day without having to dispatch clinical teams on-site to the patient’s home. They wanted to communicate on-demand both verbally and visually and found that telehealth was an efficient way to accomplish all of their goals quickly.
The provider stated, “There really is not the manpower of palliative care specialists to provide those services face-to-face.” Interestingly, some healthcare systems are exploring telehealth as an option. The article named:
- The University of Alabama at Birmingham partnered with two community hospitals in the region to provide better care to specific demographic populations with telehealth.
- The Medical University of South Carolina is studying a statewide initiative to roll out telehealth for palliative care.
All three organizations report that, while telehealth is not expected to replace in-home or in-office patient visits, telemedicine stretches their reach, allowing patients to see clinical providers from the comfort of their homes.
Mayo Clinic Study Shows Telehealth Impact for Rural Hospitals
The Mayo Clinic kept close tabs on their efforts to improve health outcomes for two rural hospitals. The study showed that their asynchronous telehealth service helped these providers reduce the risk of death in patients within 30-days as well as reducing rehospitalization.
mHealth Intelligence ran a story last month that reported on two of the rural hospitals within the Mayo Clinic network. By using an eConsult platform, these providers were able to recommend changes to antibiotic treatment that improved the care of infectious diseases significantly. They reported that 18 of the 19 hospitalists involved in the study were pleased with the use of telehealth. It also helped these small, rural facilities extend care to patients when their resources were limited. With these tools, they were able to provide the same-day evaluation so critical to infectious disease treatment and control.
Blurring Lines Between Traditional Medicine and Telehealth
A January article in IoT World suggests consumer wellness now melded firmly into traditional healthcare models thanks to telehealth. The consumerization of medicine has put healthcare back into the hands of consumers. Wellness devices to monitor and help treat conditions have become a standard part of the healthcare lexicon. Given that the wearable device market will exceed $14 billion in the next two years, it’s clear that the lines between traditional medicine, remote monitoring, and telehealth are blurring. The article stated, “And with the push toward in-home patient care, increasingly, it will be patients themselves who will be using these formerly traditional medical devices.”
Telemedicine is one of the tools blurring the lines together. These tools allow patients to play a greater role in their treatment from the comfort of their homes. The article said, “There will come a time when you won’t differentiate between telemedicine and medicine.”
Portugal Introduces National Telehealth Plan
Health Europa reports that Portugal just rolled out its new telehealth model to healthcare across the nation. Called the National Strategic Telehealth Plan (PENTS). It is the first ever country-wide initiative to standardize a virtual health technology model. The standardization of care will improve the delivery infrastructure, interoperability, serviceability, and healthcare outcomes, the country said.
The PENTS plan seeks to put patients at the center of the healthcare continuum by bringing treatment to them—wherever they are. The benefits are expected to be particularly high for patients with multi-morbidity. The nation has had a successful track record in the past of using telemedicine to reduce unplanned hospital admissions by 70% in patients with chronic heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Fueling this country-wide systemization effort is a broadband network allowing widespread adoption of telehealth and online access to digital healthcare records for every citizen in the country. Patients use the online Citizen Area to access their healthcare records, book an appointment, and check their vaccination card. E-prescription usage has grown to 80% and they expect adoption over the old paper models to continue to rise.
The telemedicine offering includes a variety of clinical services from elderly telecare to referrals to online clinical consults. The telehealth app has connected more than 200 healthcare facilities and more than 21,000 teleconsultations occurred between January and August 2029.
Currently, there are more than two million subscribers with 300 individual users added each day.
Telemedicine in 2020
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