The amalgamation of technology and healthcare beholds tremendous opportunities to provide high quality and affordable healthcare services. For the past few years, global healthcare companies are exploring Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to support and promote remote health care services, and also to aid patients as well as healthcare professionals in the fields of health-related education, training, and health administration. Telehealth has significantly improved healthcare related outcomes for secured and unsecured population in both developed and developing countries. Before the advent of Covid-19 pandemic, Telehealth was an unsung aspect of digital healthcare. However, during the pandemic, Telehealth has observed a massive growth, especially as face-to-face interactions between the patients and physicians have decreased dramatically. As remote working in healthcare is gaining traction, this digital feature is expected to register an upward growth trend in the coming years. Some of the leading market drivers which are expected to provide momentum to the adoption of Telehealth includes:
Technological Advancement – With increased advances in technology application and use, a similar upward trend is being observed in the adoption of Telehealth services. Increased number of delivery methods (such as smartphones, tabs and laptops) and their associated software applications with user-friendly interface, portable diagnostic technologies, and significant improvement in payment systems have all facilitated remote healthcare delivery and has enhanced user experience. Seamless integration between wearable monitoring devices and physician applications has further created a notable upswing in use, which is further aided by improved broadband networks (especially 5G) leading to better patient compliance.
Increased reimbursement – In the past, there have been several issues regarding reimbursement for Telehealth services. Day by day Telehealth is becoming mainstream, more number of people are opting for Telehealth services for non-emergency services. In the coming years reimbursement for Telehealth services is expected to expand further.
Virtual medical centers – Virtual Medical Centers act as a local hub for patients care, research and educational purposes. These centers host clinical specialists who provide services to patients in other centers spread across different states and countries. A noteworthy feature of these centers is that they are helpful in providing low cost healthcare services in remote areas.
Millennials or working population – Working population constitutes a significant portion of Telehealth users. Surge in the Working class population in the coming years will contribute to the telehealth growth.
Healthcare cost – Telehealth provides opportunities for the healthcare service provider and patient to save their expenses. The patients can opt for digital appointment as a first-step before a hospital visit or for non-emergency services. While the service provider can save a significant amount on hospital administration and employees, the digital first trend among the patients will boost the Telehealth market.
Government policies and regulations – Healthcare policies and programs are an essential part of government. Currently, there is significant variation in the Telehealth rule and regulation across countries and even across states. Regulation of Telemedicine Practice Guidelines will help in mass adoption of Telehealth services in the coming years. Telemedicine Practice Guidelines ensure regulatory preparedness along with competitive preparedness for the companies, while for the users it will ensure them the privacy, safety and security of their personal information.
Increased Mergers and Collaborations- In recent times the Telehealth market has observed significant attention from investors and the governments. For instance, Doctor On Demand has raised $75M in Series D funding to utilize in virtual primary care, behavioral health, while Teladoc and Livongo had announced a $18.5 billion mega-merger deal recently, in August, 2020. Apart from private collaborations, Telehealth has a huge scope for public–private partnerships, especially in the developing countries. The developing countries have a disparity in healthcare quality and access in rural and urban settings. Huge population, limited resources and a shortage of healthcare staff are some of the challenges in primary healthcare services delivery in these countries. In the coming years, the collaboration between the private players and government bodies can significantly improve the healthcare outcome for the underprivileged and unsecured population.
Teleparamedicine – Teleparamedicine can save the lives of patients in emergency situations such as stroke, heart attack or in other medical emergencies. Through Teleparamedicine doctors can monitor the patient’s health while the patient is on the way to the hospital.
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) – RPM is a sub-category of Telehealth, wherein the former collects vital stats of patients such as weight, blood pressure, and heart rate. RPM helps doctors in continuous monitoring of their patients who require special care at home.
Despite significant advancement and progress in Telehealth, there are numerous challenges in the Telehealth service delivery which are needed to overcome in order to meet the needs for a wide segment of population. Some of the challenges and issue related to Telehealth includes:
Data Privacy And Security – The data privacy and security is one of the foremost concerns related to Telehealth implementation as applications collect, transmit and store sensitive personal information. During electronic transmission and storage, the data is prone to cyber-attack. Data privacy and access protection can significantly improve the users experience and trust level.
Telehealth Infrastructure- Telehealth requires proper IT networks and supporting systems in place to work smoothly. Medical software and hardware systems, clinical workflow design, user experiences, uninterrupted internet connectivity, and bandwidth are some of the issues and challenges in Telehealth infrastructure.
Cross-state medical licensing – Different countries follow different rules and regulations regarding the Telehealth service. In some cases, at the time of service delivery, the physician is required to have a licence in the state or country where the patient is located. Lack of uniform licensing policy or practise is a hurdle in service delivery to different jurisdictions and countries across the globe.
Personal patient-to-provider interaction – It is observed that people are always resistant to change. Many people, especially the old age people prefer face to face interaction over virtual interaction. Since Telehealth is a new approach, in some cases hospitals’ also show unwillingness to adopt it because of organizational strategy, financial sustainability, fear and low confidence in service delivery and loss of personal touch with their patients. In virtual healthcare consultation some trust issues like the delivery of value-based care is likely to remain there.
Education and Training – The patients and the healthcare provider require proper education and training before implementing Telehealth. Education and Training requires substantial investment and willingness from both the parties. The unwillingness can hamper the implementation of Telehealth.
Similarly the non availability of smart-phones, mistrust among people, geriatric population not having that much exposure to technology, language barriers, initial cost of implementation, high expectations of users, malpractice, are some other barriers in Telehealth adoption.
Telehealth has a huge potential to address the need of a wide section of underserved and unsecured populations. The way it is becoming mainstream and improving over time, in the coming years Telehealth is expected to further increased patient engagement and satisfaction. Similarly, the regulation of Telehealth policies and practices will further boost its adoption.