Healthcare organizations have been increasingly using and investing in information technology (IT) for years now, and the recent pandemic has only fast-tracked this process.
The increased demands and cost for patient care has made innovations like telehealth, remote patient monitoring, e-prescriptions, and much more possible. Healthcare IT is going to play a pivotal role in the digital transformation healthcare organizations will lean on to best improve and optimize patient care.
In the face of the Covid pandemic, the world has embraced a new remote environment. People's opinions have changed, and regulators, providers, and consumers are now ready to welcome virtual care solutions. Here are eight significant changes to patient care we see coming amongst the digitization and virtualization of healthcare services:
More and more healthcare services are going to be delivered virtually, which will offer greater convenience and choice for patients, reduce waiting times, free up hospital space, and improve the efficiency of the healthcare system.
To receive virtual healthcare or "telehealth," all one will need is a smart device such as a phone, computer, or tablet and a stable internet connection. Patients will be able to receive care from the comfort of their home or from wherever they are when they need it.
While you cannot treat everything remotely, many things can be, and many healthy or vulnerable people will be able to avoid unnecessary trips to the hospital. For example, it's believed that around 20% of visits to the emergency department alone can be avoided, thanks to virtual care.
Whether it's initial assessments or ongoing treatments, virtual care will have a role to play across many different specialties, such as psychiatry, endocrinology, pulmonary medicine, hematology, dermatology, and more.
For example, a patient with a skin condition could send photos and discuss their symptoms with a dermatologist over video and receive a custom treatment plan in the mail. Or a physical therapist could offer virtual sessions for patients to teach them exercises that assist recovery.
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is a healthcare method that uses devices to gather patient data remotely outside a clinical setting. Advances in these devices and better data analysis are going to lead to reduced costs and improved outcomes for patients.
For example, the latest pacemakers and defibrillators will be able to send notifications to patients on their smart devices via Bluetooth, alerting them of warning signs or device malfunction.
Detecting problems early and notifying patients right away means they will be able to take life-saving action quicker. Remote monitoring of devices has the potential to help many millions worldwide.
Many healthcare organizations are already offering telehealth services for mental health issues, and this trend looks set to continue. In fact, of all healthcare specialties, psychiatry has the highest adoption of telehealth and virtual care services.
This is good news for the increasing number of people who have experienced mental health issues throughout the pandemic. While most sufferers still choose to see a doctor or mental health specialist in person, more and more are beginning to turn to virtual mental health tools, such as online support groups, emotional support apps, and e-counseling services.
Psychiatry and mental health are a top focus area for telehealth investment, as they believe it will solve the issue of provider shortages in many locations. For example, around 50% of counties in the US do not have a psychiatrist.
The consumerization of healthcare is a phrase used to describe the shift occurring in the health industry, where patients are becoming more like consumers. This means the old passive approach, where patients took the healthcare offered to them by their health plan, is changing, and people are now taking more control.
This change in attitudes is driven primarily by the availability of tech and data-enabled healthcare solutions, such as wearable devices, health apps, at home test-kits, telehealth services, and online pharmacies.
As a result, people now have a plethora of healthcare options available to choose from. And many are finding that the latest services from innovative startups are more cost-effective and convenient than traditional models of care.
Healthcare IT could enable clinical trials to be done outside of a hospital setting more often. As a result, people would be able to participate from home virtually, which should increase the participation rate and diversity of enrollment.
Travel is known to deter some people from participating in clinical trials, such as those living in remote communities, but they would be much more likely to take part if they could at home using telehealth.
Decentralizing clinical trials is a key focus for sponsors because it can broaden access, make them faster, and improve the experience for participants and physicians.
The traditional healthcare system puts a premium on caring for the sick rather than encouraging wellness. However, there are signs that population health and wellness could come more into focus. Technology and patient data enable healthcare to transform from a service you use a few times per year to something always present.
Rather than having an annual check-up, your healthcare providers will be able to guide you to live a healthier life using data and smart devices. Rather than focusing on treatment frequency, the new measure of success for healthcare providers will be reducing the need for care.
Research shows that 60% of physicians are focused on shifting to wellbeing and prevention. Likewise, 75% of consumers want to work with their healthcare providers on wellness goals.
The rise of wellness and prevention can already be seen in the popularity and proliferation of wearables like smartwatches and fitness trackers, health apps like Headspace and Noom, and other wellness resources. As a result, people are now more empowered than ever to look after their wellbeing, and many are willing to pay for the smart devices and digital services that help them.
IoT is already transforming the healthcare industry and empowering individuals to take better care of their own health. For patients, IoT devices such as blood pressure monitors, fitness trackers, glucometers, sleep trackers, ECGs, etc., can help them stay on track with their treatment plans and be notified of any problems.
Tracking data from multiple devices gives the healthcare provider a more comprehensive overview of their patient's health status, allowing for a more accurate diagnosis and effective treatments. They can also track how well their patients are following the prescribed treatment plan.
The number of medical and health-related IoT devices available looks set to increase rapidly, and their quality will continually improve. This proliferation of IoT products will also generate vast amounts of data, which will be incredibly valuable for the healthcare industry.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have the potential to transform healthcare. To name just a few areas, AI looks set to bring significant advancements in medicine development, cancer research, combating antibiotic resistance, medical imaging analysis, data analysis, and much more.
AI will also reduce the burden of electronic health records (EHRs) by allowing clinicians to automate some of the time-consuming, routine processes that often lead to burnout. AI will also turn EHRs into powerful data-driven tools that enable more effective treatment plans and medical decisions.
AI has already been used to detect disease outbreaks, detect patterns missed by human eyes, predict new drug combinations, and diagnose and recommend treatments for illnesses.
Healthcare IT and big data are having a significant impact on the quality of patient care. This article highlighted at eight key areas where major developments are already happening: virtual care, remote patient monitoring, mental health, the consumerization of healthcare, clinical trials, wellness and prevention, IoT, and AI.
However, it's hard to predict what the future state of healthcare will look like emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence and RPA.
Nonetheless, we look forward to the digital shift throughout healthcare and transition to more remotely accessible, personalized, inclusive, technologically advanced, and data-driven care. Exciting times lie ahead!