How Tech Foundation of Telehealth Is Changing as a Result of COVID-19

Learn how COVID-19 has changed the outlook for the foundation of telehealth in the U.S. — from a shift in IoMT infrastructure to the importance of dashboards. 

In March 2020 the U.S. saw a 154% increase in the number of telemedicine visits according to the CDC. While that surge is impressive, it only tells the beginning of the story. Telemedicine and telehealth are a complex network of technologies — the foundation of which is changing quickly in response to surges in demand and shifting attitudes.

These technologies are the driving force behind the potential virtualization of up to $250 billion of current U.S. healthcare spend, estimated by McKinsey. To keep up, healthcare tech organizations will need to nurture a deep understanding of how the foundational technology is changing to undergird effective, interoperable, and patient-centered functionality in their telehealth solutions.

Medical Devices Will Play a Bigger Role

Screen-based interactions are just one corner of telemedicine. COVID-19 has accelerated decentralized care models, expanding how consumers engage in remote care. Think of models like the hospital at home that have pushed higher levels of care into patient living spaces. Mobile devices like handheld ultrasound and smart glucose monitors are quickly propelling telemedicine beyond the limits of the remote doctor’s visit. 

At the same time, direct-to-consumer care (DTC) is picking up speed and opening the door for DTC devices themselves — which, of course, creates increasing competition and growing expectations from healthcare consumers. 

While these factors promise a bright future for telemedicine, device security will be an ongoing challenge. Post-COVID reform will rely on the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), and addressing security risk, a constant hurdle for healthcare, will make or break these devices’ success in the telehealth space. Healthcare tech organizations will need highly specialized, agile talent that understands the nature of telemedicine and where it’s headed in the future. 

Learn more in this example of integrating multiple wellness devices using Human API

Mobile Consumer Apps Will Blur Lines

Consumer app use exploded with COVID, but we’ve only started to see the full potential of healthcare apps. 

Mobile apps have the potential to support the 70% of medical issues that can be handled online, and the pandemic has likely increased this possibility. Take Mayo Clinic, for example. During the first week of March 2020, the organization saw a 200% week-over-week increase in time spent in its app (Android) in the U.S. 

For healthcare technology companies, this means that solutions will need to have more sophisticated functionality in data extraction and result tracking. For example, CMS has expanded telemedicine reimbursement to include more services, increasing the need for functions like tracking screen time. These apps also open up opportunities in launching and supporting value-based care revenue streams (think of the importance of tracking outcomes) which will be critical in optimizing revenue post-COVID. 

IoMT Infrastructure Will Blend With Infrastructure

As healthcare infrastructure continues its steady migration to the cloud, the IoMT promises even more changes. The expansion of the IoMT has given rise to new architectures, applications, and standards, bringing about new challenges and opportunities for organizations that step boldly into platforms like Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare, AWS for Healthcare, and the Google Healthcare API.  

While standards like OpenEHR have made progress in separating medical semantics from data representation of electronic health records, they don’t yet do enough, falling short of the interoperability requirements of e-health devices in machine-to-machine (M2M) networks or IoMT scenarios. 

In a telehealth world changed by a pandemic, healthcare infrastructure and cloud infrastructure in particular will need to enable the application of big data techniques and online analytical processing (OLAP) through Amazon Redshift and Map/Reduce, as well as content sharing through Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR) application programming interfaces (APIs). These technologies are ultimately enabling advanced benefits of telemedicine such as the elimination of unnecessary in-person visits, improvement of outcomes (like using activity trackers to improve accuracy of evaluation of patients with ischemic heart disease), and cost reduction through improved medication adherence and remote patient monitoring.  

Data Collection and Transformation Will Make or Break Organizations

Being “data-driven” isn’t an option for healthcare organizations that want to stay competitive in a telehealth landscape shaped by COVID-19 — especially if they want to meet goals like the Quadruple Aim. Masses of structured and unstructured data are being generated by both patients and devices, and your solutions will need to keep up. 

This “keeping up” will hinge on solutions that enable interoperability. For example, EHR interoperability will be critical in expanding rural care and enabling care coordination (something that can be challenging in the telehealth space). Data from the EHR and other sources will need to be normalized, making competence critical in standards like FHIR and HL7 (declared by AHIMA to be among the most popular standards today). 

But security is an ongoing challenge. Healthcare has long stood out for its vulnerability to breaches, and in 2020, things got worse — the industry saw a 55.1% increase in breaches from 2019, with the average cost per breach increasing by about 10% to $499. One of the most pressing challenges tech companies face will be the secure data management of sensitive PHI — a complex area of competence that can be difficult to build and scale quickly. 

Achieving an optimal approach to data in the future will require cloud-centric strategies that fit the needs of healthcare. 

Dashboards Will Define Leadership

As telemedicine rises to new prominence in the industry, healthcare leaders will need deeper and more flexible insights to make smart decisions. They will be in search of solutions that enable real-time perspective and granular insights. But this is nothing new. 

The benefits of interactive healthcare dashboards have been a selling point for several years now, and you should expect this trend to continue. These dashboards give leaders the ability to slice-and-dice growing amounts of data and kill the request-and-wait process that slows decision-making in so many organizations. When built with telehealth in mind, these dashboards give leaders confidence in an increasingly complex telehealth landscape, enabling them to more effectively navigate changes in patient preferences, provider needs, care delivery, reimbursement in the revenue cycle, and even data collection itself. 

Decision makers will look for: 

  • Functionality that allows them to follow and respond to telehealth trends
  • Benchmarks in the effectiveness of their telehealth programs
  • Reporting that helps them gauge and respond to remote care accessibility 

Ultimately, these dashboards should improve the patient user experience and help to decrease burnout of providers and administration, just as they’re facing increasing pressure to perform in response to the long-term effects of a pandemic. 

The Future of Telehealth Development

Most importantly, telehealth is no longer a backup plan in healthcare. It’s the future of healthcare and your product development strategy should align with this perspective. 

This perspective requires data collection and management through proper application of technologies such as AI/ML, and SMART technologies (straightforward to use, measurable, agile, reliant on collaboration, and tailored) which will be critical in creating interoperable solutions that deliver at scale. At Vicert, this perspective is part of our core competence. We’re proud to build telehealth solutions that tangibly improve care and support providers through software that’s kept up to date with fast-changing telehealth and reimbursement regulations. 

 

Spend some time with our Skills Matrix to identify where we can offer you the most support. 

Author: Tech Team
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