By Mary Gorder
Telehealth and AI are making strides in leaps and bounds, greatly enhancing services and patient care in the field of medicine. With technology taking on such a paramount role in the system, the healthcare climate is shifting gears, focusing its efforts on patient services by enabling individuals to monitor their own health, access their medical records and share critical information in a convenient, safe and efficient manner.
Thanks to improved legislation and positive trends in reimbursement, telehealth is rapidly gaining a newfound momentum. New bills have been recently signed to further the progress of telehealth implementation on a nationwide scale by removing previously established barriers.
As the U.S. faces the real possibility of experiencing shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030, telehealth is quickly being recognized as a valued and cost-effective means of providing healthcare to patients with mobility, geographical or financial limitations. The technology will also be instrumental in improving disease detection, diagnoses and treatment plans in rural areas where accessibility is limited due to underdeveloped facilities and physician shortages.
A variety of institutions, such as hospitals and clinics, are beginning to adopt telehealth technology as an affordable, quality complement to their existing services. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is bringing healthcare solutions to an entirely different level, enhancing the functionality of telehealth platforms and devices.
Following are some of the ways telehealth and AI are working together to transform virtual care in 2019:
Remote Health Monitoring
Online platforms, applications and devices for monitoring chronic diseases have existed for years, but AI is making it easier to report, track and forecast patterns in real-time, facilitating the ability to take preventive measures and more effectively manage health for improved outcomes. Algorithms also now have the ability to uncover detailed insights and predict patterns, facilitating diagnostics and enabling the customization of care plans.
As the trend toward preventive healthcare and home monitoring grows, more people are embracing systems that incorporate predictive analytics to monitor conditions and transmit patient readings to clinics, hospitals, physicians' offices and even family members.
Emerging AI is now making it possible for consumers to self-diagnose by evaluating their vital signs though telehealth's diagnostic tools. Doctors can then analyze the readings and consequently take the necessary follow-up measures by scheduling a virtual visit or prescribing medication.
New medical-grade apps and platforms are also hitting the scene, enabling the detection of a variety of conditions ranging from skin cancer to heart disease. As research and technology progress, devices will be increasingly sophisticated and tailored to the market's needs.
The smart pill box, a system that monitors medication adherence through Bluetooth technology, has been on the market for some time, but a new forward-thinking technology is hitting the scene in the form of digestible pills equipped with sensors. Abilify MyCite has introduced a digital sensor-based version of Ariprazole, an anti-psychotic medication used to manage conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The sensor is activated when mixed with a specific stomach fluid. The data is then transmitted to a wearable patch, which is consequently submitted to a patient's online data portal for review by a healthcare professional. This system is a major breakthrough, helping to monitor a patient's medication compliance in order to achieve peak mental health.
Virtual Physician Visits
Telehealth platforms are in full swing, allowing patients to schedule visits with primary care physicians and specialists in the convenience of their own home, at a fraction of the cost. This accessibility not only helps patients become more proactive with their health, but also extends care to people who live in remote locations or have mobility issues.
The incorporation of AI into virtual visits creates a realistic environment for the patient thanks to the use of advanced diagnostic technologies that can monitor specific conditions. The benefits of these virtual visits are many, with patients relishing the convenience of managing their health remotely, as well as the comfort experienced from avoiding the sometimes-unhealthy setting of a hospital. In addition, telehealth is extremely cost-effective.
Virtual telehealth is also gaining popularity in the psychology segment, allowing patients to access a wide array of behavioral healthcare providers through video conferencing. Because of the shortage of mental health professionals, telehealth allows those with psychiatric problems to meet in a virtual setting without geographical boundaries. Schools, prisons and health centers are quickly integrating telehealth as a key component of behavioral healthcare management that can treat patients in a faster, discreet and more comfortable manner, thus lessening the burden placed on hospitals.
Emergency care is welcoming the partnership between telehealth and AI because of its proven ability to improve patient treatment times, reduce costs, and enhance patient outcomes. One such example is the introduction of a new smart technology that allows ambulances to send a patient's digital vital readings to the hospital prior to arrival. Emergency departments are also enhancing their services by logging patients' data at the triage center and then digitally transferring the information to an on-site physician or a healthcare professional at another hospital.
Intensive care units are using AI telehealth platforms to monitor patients around the
clock. This is especially valuable for rural hospitals because it enables them to submit patient readings to larger, specialized hospitals without transferring the patient.
Telehealth technology streamlines processes in the health industry and helps amplify the effectiveness of the services provided by healthcare professionals.
The implementation of advanced telehealth solutions in mainstream healthcare is progressing at a satisfying rate, and while some challenges remain, barriers are slowly breaking down, paving the way to a bright future for the global healthcare industry.
Mary Gorder is the founder and president of Drs. On Calls, a virtual health technology company whose mission is to make healthcare accessible to all through compassionate, convenient and affordable telehealth services.