Telemedicine platforms and remote diagnostic devices became essential to maintain social distancing during COVID-19, and they’ll continue to redefine healthcare moving forward.
- Digital preparedness and tools became essential for healthcare organizations during the pandemic to maintain patient care
- Telehealth came to the forefront as regulatory barriers to access came down and remote monitoring became essential.
- In the first 20 days of March 2020, more changes happened in remote health than in the previous 20 years.
- The digital tools that will play a part in the future of healthcare include AI, 3D bioprinting, and increasingly sophisticated remote monitoring devices
The COVID-19 pandemic shone a spotlight on digital preparedness and the tools digital transformation offers all businesses. For healthcare organizations maintaining connections with patients, as well as other providers, these tools proved essential.
The most common digital health projects of 2020 included telemedicine visits, digital learning packages to inform people about the disease, geographic information systems, and quick-response code applications to track cases in real-time, and cloud- and mobile-based applications for both self-care and patient tracking. These innovations also provided a glimpse into the future of healthcare.
One of the driving engines behind healthcare technology now and in the future is Artificial Intelligence (AI). The National Institutes of Health deem AI effective for identifying and analyzing patterns in large, complex data sets quickly, which can contribute in a number of medical areas. Further advancements in AI are expected to push the boundaries between human and artificial intelligence, even to the extent of providing hybrid human/AI health analytics, among other strides in patient care.
Connecting with patients
Most healthcare organizations rely, naturally, on in-person interactions, but this type of contact became impossible during the pandemic. This meant scrambling to provide patients with the care they needed while maintaining HIPAA compliance. It also called for increased investment in digital communication tools. More changes in remote health care happened in the first 20 days of March 2020 than in the 20 years before it.
Telehealth became the norm during the height of COVID, and organizations incorporated these no-contact visits into their electronic health records. Where possible, they added remote patient monitoring to form a single platform that also provided patient data and alerts with notifications. Telehealth is divided into three modalities:
- Synchronous: Real-time telephone or audio-video interaction with a patient using a smartphone, tablet, or computer with video capabilities.
- Asynchronous: This technology uses secure messaging via a patient portal to store text, images, or data that are interpreted or responded to later.
- Remote Patient Monitoring: Direct transmission of clinical measurements from the patient’s home to their healthcare provider.
Telehealth technology is not new, and even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was increased interest in its use. Policy changes made by the federal government removed barriers to access and promoted it as a way to deliver acute, chronic, primary, and even specialty care.
The technology behind remote patient monitoring
Remote patient monitoring is enhanced telemedicine, using technology to track patient data, independent of setting, whether the patient is at home, school, work, or even the gym.
With a remote patient monitor, patient status is directly transmitted via a remote monitoring device to their healthcare provider. The provider can then analyze acute or chronic conditions using the data provided by devices such as a blood pressure monitor, continuous glucose monitor, anticoagulation testing device, ECG devices, heart rate monitors, and medical alert systems. In-home monitoring of pregnancy and pediatric care is also possible.
About 88% of healthcare providers already have or are considering remote patient monitoring devices to not only connect better with patients but improve outcomes.
3 trends defining the future of digital healthcare
The increase in investment and adoption of digital health technologies are due to reduced healthcare costs, improved outcomes, enablement of value-based healthcare, increased patient engagement, and the ability for digital tools to mitigate public health disparities. In the future, three factors will drive these technologies even further.
AI is already being used by about one-third of physicians, and as both patients and providers become more comfortable with the technology, its use will increase significantly.
It is expected to revolutionize medical imaging and is already being used in cardiology, pathology, and ophthalmology, among other specialties. Some say that artificial intelligence-based systems will even replace physicians in some medical specializations, particularly pathology and radiology.
For medical imaging, AI can improve both productivity and accuracy in identifying cardiovascular abnormalities and detecting hard-to-see dislocations, fractures, and soft-tissue injuries. It can also:
- Identify and distinguish differences in neurological diseases
- Find thoracic conditions and their complications
- Screen for cancers
Supplementing diagnostics and decision-making with AI has the possibility to give both providers and patients life-changing information about many diseases, injuries, and conditions that elude the human eye.
- 3D bioprinting
3D printing is currently being used to make medical devices. A digital model is printed using successive layers of materials, such as glass, plastic, metal, or ceramic, and assembled one layer at a time.
Bioprinting uses bio-ink made of living cell structures, and researchers are working on printing different types of tissue. In the future, this could include printing entire organs. This might be some time away, but already kidney cells and sheets of cardiac tissue that beat like a human heart have been visualized.
Additional uses for bioprinting are expected to produce skin for grafts, bones, cartilage, stem cells, surgical tools, blood vessels, and human heart patches. There’s even hope for cancer treatment — cells are being bioprinted to study how cancer tumors develop and grow.
- The rise of digital medical devices
The role of connected devices in the healthcare industry has grown tremendously because of their ability to collect real-time data. Mainstream consumer fitness and biometrics devices are connected now, and devices that don’t have it will as new models come out.
Connectivity plays a critical role when it comes to the future of medical technology. Caregivers and patients can quickly get answers to problems, while on the provider side, connectivity collects data sets that advance the development of digital biomarkers, a key technology for preventative care as well as early diagnostics.
There is no question that COVID-19 has propelled both rapid technological advancement and rapid regulatory approval of technologies in digital health. This has spurred innovation for future technological healthcare research and treatment solutions.
The future is now with DICOM Director
COVID-19 showed the world that the management of radiology studies, so essential to diagnosis, requires a reliable, hands-off solution.
For radiologists, our Share XR technology enables fast sharing of images with colleagues, reduced turnaround time, and, with digital delivery, no need to make CDs. Patients have easy access to their x-rays with Share XR augmented by Store XR, which also provides safety from loss or corruption.
For more information about how we can equip you for not only today’s reality but the future, please contact us today.