By Luke Smith, Writer and Researcher
Our world is changing more quickly than many older generations ever imagined. This is especially true in the healthcare industry where new technologies and healthcare revolutions seem just around the corner every single day. Change is happening so quickly here that many healthcare professionals feel like they are learning some new technology that improves patient care weekly.
One of these advancements is through telehealth. The idea of telehealth — where a doctor convenes with a patient for appointments over the computer rather than in person — has been around for a while. However, new developments in technology, especially in big data analytics, have propelled the service forward.
Additionally, numerous recent healthcare situations — the COVID-19 pandemic in particular — have encouraged a greater number of patients and doctors alike to lean into telehealth as a reasonable means of getting the appropriate healthcare. The pandemic has spurred on the growth of an industry that is altering the way we view and receive healthcare at an even faster rate.
Benefits of Online Healthcare
Telehealth has had a much slower rollout than originally anticipated for a number of reasons. Primarily, growth has been slow due to a lack of technology in many households, a reluctance to adopt the new technology by both providers and patients, and a high price tag associated with initial implementation in clinics. However, there are numerous benefits associated with telemedicine.
Perhaps some of the biggest benefits come to those who are living in rural communities that may not have easy healthcare access, especially for more than the most basic health needs. Telemedicine or telehealth can ease the burden of taking time off work to travel to a hospital for an appointment. Rather, patients can confer with doctors and specialists online for most appointments and leave the travel for important occasions such as a planned surgery.
Outside of reducing travel time and associated costs, other benefits include:
- Faster diagnosis — telehealth is a good way to address healthcare provider shortages and keep hospitals open for those with emergency care needs
- More treatment access — as mentioned above, rural patients can get the same quality care and interaction with specialists without the travel
- Remote patient monitoring — the health of patients can be monitored by healthcare providers while they are at home rather than staying in the hospital
- More limited exposure — staying at home means at-risk patients are not coming to the hospital and exposing themselves or others to health concerns
During the pandemic, these benefits have been amplified. Many patients have sought out means to avoid going into the hospitals where COVID patients are being treated and many doctors have been overwhelmed. Telehealth provides benefits to both parties.
Big Data and Telehealth
Telehealth has numerous benefits on its own, but it becomes even more powerful when in combination with big data analytic systems. Big data in healthcare works to consolidate patient information, analyze symptoms for more accurate diagnostics, and factor in demographic and geographic data that could play into healthcare. Likewise, it can help focus healthcare providers where they are needed most and help aid in improving patient safety across the medical field.
When it comes to telehealth, in particular, big data can help improve communication between patients and the various healthcare providers they may be seeking treatment from. Many experts believe this will be a critical factor in improving relationships between healthcare providers and the patients they are treating. This is largely because telehealth feels much more comfortable and personalized for many patients — it is almost a hark back to the days of doctor home visits.
Finally, with big data incorporated into telehealth, healthcare providers can link up with healthcare apps to track and monitor patient health. For instance, numerous smartphone or smartwatch apps allow users to track health factors such as the number of steps taken in a day, heart rate, breathing rate, and diet. All of these data points can be transmitted directly to a doctor and be factored into any treatment decisions.
Into the Future
Though there are certainly many benefits of the advances that have been made, going into the future, more aspects of telehealth and big data will need to be ironed out. For example, updates to the medical coding system are needed to make it more compatible with big data software. Doing this can improve the streamlining of medical billing and make it easier to explain the numerous mystery costs that come from a medical procedure.
Likewise, one of the largest struggles that our healthcare system faces today is creating a greater level of interoperability. The COVID-19 pandemic is the perfect example of where improving this would make our lives far easier. Big data and interoperability would improve our pandemic response by allowing for greater coordination of care, better patient identification, and determining where at-risk populations are highest.
As we move into the future, it is almost certain that telehealth will drastically change healthcare delivery in the United States. The incorporation of big data will make this change more useful and effective. It is only a matter of time before telehealth will be coming to a rural community near you!