Will telemedicine and remote patient monitoring continue to grow at the same pace even after COVID-19?
The catalyst for the promising future of telehealth and continuous monitoring has been COVID-19, marking the beginning of a new level of care moving forward. The implementation of new technologies, such as continuous monitoring to facilitate a virtual health environment, would only benefit patients and caregivers alike.
There has been an unprecedented rise in the use of telehealth technologies to remotely monitor and care for patients over the past few months in response to this need. It has been estimated, the number of telehealth patient visits has increased 50-175 times during COVID-19, with 57% of providers viewing telehealth more favorably than before the pandemic. This shift demonstrates a seismic change in the provision of care, illustrating an approach that may very well signal the beginning of a new standard of care moving forward.
As a contact-free option, it has proven particularly useful from a hygienic point of view for healthcare facilities during the current crisis, as there are no leads or other wearable devices to change or touch the body of the patient, reducing the need for workers to gown up and enter isolation areas. Telehealth covers a broader spectrum than telemedicine with more diverse uses such as disease screening, remote patient monitoring, disaster management, and healthcare delivery. Telemedicine aims to ensure the provision of cost-effective, timely, and equitable care to all patients with secure contact between patients and doctors.
A study in the USA examined telemedicine use among medical enrollees and found only 1%were telemedicine users out of 45,233,602 enrollees from 22 states. Since the start of the pandemic, the utilization of telemedicine in various healthcare services has rapidly increased. Patient satisfaction, compliance with appointments has improved along with safe care and cost-effectiveness. It was also found that telemedicine reduced the number of hospital admissions by 19%.
Comorbidities are conditions that have been associated with increased risk for a severe outcome of COVID-19 and consequently, these are the patients who could benefit most from telehealth. Hypertension, diabetes, chronic lung diseases, and cardiovascular diseases are some of the few chronic illnesses, that are aided due to telemedicine in the current scenario, and will be continued in the future as well.
According to the available literature in the current pandemic, a urological review highlights the potential effectiveness of telehealth interventions and identifies which clinical situations could be safely and efficiently handled by telehealth interventions, as well as the possible benefits of such an approach in terms of cost and time saving and pollution prevention. On the other hand, patients who require a physical examination are not ideal candidates for telehealth.
Existing technology already provides examination kits and apps that allow patients or caregivers to perform guided medical examinations with a health care provider (eg, Tyto from TytoCare). Also, hands-on training should be given to encourage the use of telemedicine. In that way, both physicians and patients will probably discover the opportunities of remote medical counselling in everyday practice, namely the convenience of smart working (for the physician), time and resource savings (for the patient), better availability and accessibility of consultations, and improved follow-up and contact possibilities.
More robust health economic assessments are needed to understand the economic implications of telehealth applications. Implementing telehealth may require substantial resources to be invested in health care providers. However, both the rising number of potential clients and the lower costs borne by patients may counterbalance the costs for institutions and national health systems.
Further studies should assess the safety and efficacy of ongoing experiences with telemedicine during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of the current quality and the long-term outcomes of widespread adoption of telemedicine and remote health care systems. Such efforts could help us not only to better plan for potential future emergencies but also to establish the best quality of care while defining the role of telemedicine in contemporary practice.