2021 – The Acceleration and Transformation of Telemedicine

Jan 15, 2021 | Opinion

The Covid-19 pandemic affected all healthcare providers regardless of size or sector. Many had to stop providing services, some were able to offer reduced services and a few thrived and even grew. 

These fortunate few had either started to incorporate Telemedicine as part of their operations, or were able to quickly pivot and use readily available tools and services. 9 months down the line, one thing is clear – patients and clinics alike have readily adopted these new ways of working, and they are here to stay. 

Acceleration – the demand for telemedicine will grow even faster 

Processes that can now be done from home include: patient registration, completion and signing of forms, consultations and follow-ups via Video or phone. There has been a boom in home test kits for blood, semen – oh and Covid!  There has also been considerable interest in mobile devices for scanning, analysing and communicating results; however, issues over quality and accuracy compared with professional equipment remain. 

The operational and competitive advantages are tangible, as is the convenience for patients. They no longer having to schedule limited appointments, no travelling to clinic and no waiting around. Apart from physical examinations and medical procedures should be able to be done remotely – that should be the goal at least. Less travel, less paper and less postage has to be good for the environment too. 

Transformation – making all the pieces work together – securely 

Healthcare platforms are notorious for their lack of interoperability – partly due to legacy technologies and, perhaps, mainly to do with data security. For providers and users of enterprise solutions there are more integration options, but they are not ‘plug and play’. Interfaces need to be developed and maintained, with governance over patient data the over-riding concern. 

Smaller healthcare organisations have less options, and just want a single, ideally, feature rich solution which they can use and patients can use, without any additional investment in internal IT staff or hardware. The move to the cloud in healthcare continues to be slow, not just because of security concerns but the cost of change from existing, sometimes monolithic, medical records systems. 

Telemedicine – the challenges 

Let’s start with Accessibility – not all patients have computers, some just have mobiles. Some have visual, hearing or motor impairments making stand web-based software awkward, difficult or impossible to use. Languages are another issue, how can you be sure a person whose first language isn’t English has fully understood the medical options provided, the explanations of risks or any financial commitments?  Lastly, our aging populations; even those who have used computers for over a decade can struggle filling out forms, accurately entering data and keeping up with the fancy new icons and navigation systems that magically appear overnight. 

The main challenges as noted above are interoperability and data security.  

We will see more integrated cloud-based platforms emerge from existing vendors and new innovators.  At the heart of these will be databases and data warehouses that are designed and architected to the very highest security standards.  These must be able to scale for those organisations who see 500 patients a year, and those that see 500,000+ patients a year. If you’re going to design and build a secure enterprise solution, then the same security should be available to smaller organisations. 

Staff working remotely, from home, will put additional security and support pressures on internal IT systems. 

No question, a single database is the way to go but in the context of Telemedicine, these single solutions don’t have feature rich components for: patient portals, video consultations, informed consent, appointment management and secure messaging.  On the flip side there are best in breed solutions for all of these, plus the growing number of home testing and scanning devices and services.  Integrating easily and securely, without custom coding is the goal.  With standard data definitions and the use of modern protocols like XML and JSON data and messages can be securely exchanges over public APIs. 

This article was first published in Healthcare Tech Outlook in January 2021.