Dr. Haim Amir, CEO and founder of Essence Group
The COVID-19 pandemic focused its major and deep-rooted problems on the health care system. Health organizations in many regions, which were already expanding to almost their capacity before the pandemic, have been pushing to the brink of collapse. As they struggled to respond, they began to lean heavily on nascent telehealth tools and techniques to keep the public safe. This change has been corroborated by a recent study by the Parks Association that identified a significant increase in the use of telehealth in all demographic groups:
“For example, only 6% of those 65 or older had used a telehealth service in 2019 compared to 29% in 2020. Similarly, only 6% of those who are more resistant to new technologies. “They had tested telehealth in 2019, up from 24% today. This increase among demographic groups illustrates the movement of telehealth from an emerging technology service to a solution that offers attention to the mass market.”
This is perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the pandemic: patients responded positively to managing their health needs through technology. This has led to further speculation about how it could be used to address additional challenges facing the sector and what it will mean for health both now and in the future. One thing we can be sure of: the pandemic has thrown the initial gun against a telehealth revolution.
Of course, with this revolution questions arise, and perhaps most importantly, whether health care providers and insurers are willing to take advantage of the opportunities they face by making the necessary changes in the way they operate.
Perhaps the best example is the use of telehealth solutions to facilitate remote patient control. This use case is driven by the need to keep vulnerable individuals away from hospitals, where they are at risk of infection, and to prevent facilities from being overwhelmed by a sudden influx of patients.
Mobile, web-based applications are used to upload patient-recorded information about their vital signs (including blood pressure, blood glucose levels, or lung function) from home. In addition, portable devices can transmit real-time data, such as heart rate, gait, posture control, tremors, physical activity, or sleep patterns, to healthcare teams. This can be increased through home monitoring devices for vulnerable adults, such as the elderly or people with dementia, who detect and report activities such as falls or prolonged periods of inactivity.
The growing use of telecare has also begun to address the shortage of trained medical staff, which has contributed to high levels of clinical staff exhaustion. With fewer people visiting hospitals for treatment, health systems have been able to remotely increase patients ’capacity without putting more effort into resources and can actually provide patients with higher quality of care.
Telesalutation also moves from acute to chronic care, with better screening to assess risk and urgency to determine whether the patient can wait or be seen immediately. Certain health-related indices are now tracked through non-intrusive detectors. These data complement the detection to provide more information for evaluation purposes.
Beyond the imperative provoked by COVID-19, the healthcare sector must put in place the right infrastructure so that it can take full advantage of the potential of telehealth. Therefore, several key aspects need to be addressed:
First, it is vital that there is a safe and secure method of sharing patient health data electronically. The real requirement is a personal health record (PHR) system that can gather information about the health of people that you can monitor and maintain. Available at any time, these PHR systems would provide care teams and emergency personnel with quick access to vital information, including recent diagnoses, prescription medications, and any allergy to medications. In fact, in part through regulatory structures such as the Health Insurance Liability and Liability Act (HIPAA), there is now a growing confidence that the technology is safe, facilitating virtual consultations between patients and physicians who share data. valuable aids in diagnosis and follow-up.
Informed patient consent must also be addressed. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights announced that it would not apply certain HIPAA requirements during the pandemic. However, caregivers are encouraged to notify patients of privacy risks and provide all available encryption and privacy modes when using these applications.
Finally, and the key to facilitating the expansion of telecare, is such an important (and always challenging) issue of reimbursements. In March 2020, Congress approved additional appropriations for coronavirus preparedness and response Act. This legislation allows healthcare professionals to bill the Medicare service fee for patient care performed by telehealth during the current pandemic. This has led the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to introduce a number of new health-specific reimbursement codes. The legislation also allows for the provision of telephone services, a big step forward. As for the private health insurance sector, some companies have already accepted telehealth and the rest are expected to follow soon.
COVID-19 has facilitated the transition to widespread adoption of telehealth much faster and easier than anyone could have predicted or planned. Traditional barriers to telehealth have diminished, thanks to increased availability of technology, pragmatic regulatory changes, and the willingness of patients and providers to adopt new solutions. After all, the pandemic did not cure them.
The telehealth revolution is undeniably underway, and most importantly, patients say they are ready for it. The question remains whether health care providers will remain open to new possibilities or whether we will see inertia and interest resist their adoption.
About Dr. Haim Amir
Dr. Haim Amir is CEO and founder of Essence Group, a leading global provider of IoT solutions and services for security, communication and health service providers. Prior to founding Essence Group, he held technology leadership positions at several global companies, including HP, Digital and IBM. Dr. Amir holds a bachelor’s degree in electronics and an MBA from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and a doctorate in computer science and electronics from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.