Telehealth, once a niche industry, has truly come into its own during the COVID-19 pandemic. The telehealth concept is simple: patients have easy access to medical practitioners and specialists, regardless of where in the world they are located, through one of the many online telehealth services available on the market today. Thanks to advancements in communication technologies, patients don’t have to worry about their personal medical data being compromised, either. Telemedicine app features offer a basic function that is accessible to patients regardless of their technical expertise. Although the industry has its challenges going forward, the online telehealth services list continues to grow, and business innovations are bringing custom solutions for telemedicine to all.
Telehealth has proven especially useful during the COVID-19 pandemic, when limiting contact between individuals is critical to preventing further spread of the deadly virus. As the pandemic begins to wind down, however, don’t think that telemedicine will go along with it; the rapidly expanding industry is here to stay. A survey published by McKinsey & Company shows that 40% of people currently using telemedicine plan to keep on doing so.
How many people put off going to the doctor because their symptoms “aren’t that bad” and they don’t want to call out sick from work? Or perhaps they’re too busy and tell themselves that they simply don’t have the time to sit in a crowded doctor’s waiting room? Postponing a visit to the doctor is a recipe for disaster because there is a risk that certain medical conditions become unmanageable (and more expensive) with time. If there’s one thing that the pandemic has shown us, it’s that online telehealth services work. Telehealth has revolutionized the medical industry, allowing patients to put their health first and seek out the best online doctors who can prescribe them medicine and monitor their treatment.
Telemedicine, like any rapidly growing industry, has not grown without its own share of setbacks. Thanks to business innovators, however, that might all soon change for the better.
The challenges going forward
Some critics of telehealth services have cautioned that as the industry continues to grow it must keep inclusivity in mind so that the most vulnerable people in society are not left behind. For example, the Harvard Business Review reported in November 2020 that between 50% and 80% of all medical visits in the United States were being conducted via telemedicine during the past year of the pandemic, compared to just 1% beforehand. Those numbers are only expected to grow in the coming years.
A study based in the greater New York City area quoted in the Harvard Business Review article showed that the elderly, African Americans, and Hispanics were less likely to use telemedicine than Whites or Asians. This could be due to any number of reasons. Lack of access to high-speed internet is one of the biggest impediments to accessing telemedicine, as is financial coverage from medical insurance companies. There are also mental boundaries that prohibit some people from fully embracing telemedicine: they might question the privacy, security, or efficacy of online consultations as opposed to meeting with a doctor face-to-face.
Medical practitioners and specialists also face challenges in this brave new technological world. The Harvard Business Review reports in the aforementioned article that telemedicine can lead medical professionals to take on a bigger workload than they’re accustomed to. As a result, they risk getting overwhelmed and burned out more quickly. This means that some doctors might be too busy to focus on the needs of each patient, or may favor face-to-face patient interactions, leading to unsatisfied and frustrated customers at best, or at worst, misdiagnosis and improper treatment.
As with any growing industry, these problems are being corrected in real-time. Most notably, business innovators have set out to improve these issues through implementation of:
- Free Telemedicine
- AI and Data Analytics
CNBC reported in April 2020 on nine companies that were offering either discounted or free telemedicine to those who thought they might be experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus. According to the article, one company, CallonDoc, went as far as to waive its $39.99 medical consultation fee not only for coronavirus patients but for all medical needs. At a time when many people have been faced with the income stagnation or have lost their jobs altogether, this proved to be an invaluable service. Telemedicine reviews like this one from a CallonDoc user say it all: “A lot easier than sitting in ER. Appreciated this service a lot.”
Almost every telehealth service is available through apps to iOS and Android users alike, and these telehealth apps make it more convenient for patients to get the help they need, whether they’re quarantining at home or just too worried about sitting in a doctor’s crowded waiting room. The doctor is literally in your hands! Patients simply need to fill out a questionnaire about their symptoms to connect them with the right doctor and, in the case of discounted or free medical care, enter the company promo code. Telehealth companies like CallonDoc even send drug prescriptions to your local pharmacy if necessary, saving you a lot of hassle.
It goes without saying that an industry providing such an essential service to the public will continue to improve and become more inclusive over time, in order to not only attract customers but keep them. There is no other way. While news stories echoed rumors of hospitals and the medical system collapsing, online telehealth services stepped up in a time of crisis, proving that solid alternatives exist for patients in need. Thanks to IT companies like Proxet, servicing clients worldwide, these telehealth services have the technological support they need to continue to innovate and grow.
AI and Data Analytics
The machine learning and artificial intelligence used in online telehealth services are not meant to replace medical professionals but rather to make their jobs easier. In the long run, AI benefits not only medical professionals but patients as well. It leads to less waiting time for patients, and less risk of burnout for medical professionals, meaning that more people have access to the healthcare they need. Through advanced data analytics and machine learning algorithms, telehealth apps continue to provide better and better service to patients. The company HealthTap, founded in 2010, explains how effective this new approach is:
“We use artificial intelligence to “interview” members, and triage (classify and prioritize) their symptoms. The results from HealthTap AI can be used by themselves, or inform one of HealthTap’s doctors in a virtual consultation.”
This streamlining of data also allows companies like HealthTap to reduce the cost of their services, which ultimately makes it more affordable than going to a doctor’s office. AI can analyze a greater amount of data in less time than a medical professional, comparing a patient’s unique case to tens of thousands of others in order to offer the most accurate diagnosis and treatment. Advanced data analytics also allows AI to take outside factors into consideration besides a patient’s medical history and lifestyle that might negatively affect their health, such as their geographic location.
Perhaps one of the most exciting outcomes for AI and data analytics used in telemedicine is the treatment of chronic diseases, such as diabetes. In a research paper written by Irene Dankwa-Mullan of IBM and Marc Rivo of Population Health Innovations Inc, the authors describe how advancements in machine learning have paved the way for the creation of more sophisticated insulin pumps and glucose sensors in the coming years. Data taken from these devices will allow diabetics to better control their blood glucose levels and reduce the number of hypoglycemic episodes. The data also empowers doctors to better monitor their patients’ progress along the way to a healthier lifestyle. There is also a clear advantage to treating one’s mental health by means of telemedicine. As Entrepreneur Magazine reports, the number of patients seeking online professional care from a psychologist increased from 29% to 83% during the pandemic.
Software development services like Proxet, with over ten years of experience in the healthcare industry and countless projects relating to the healthcare system, can help your company build one of the best telemedicine platforms, whether you’re a startup or a Fortune 500 company. Our teams of developers are up to the task, whether it’s building a project from scratch or overseeing its implementation. Proxet understands that telemedicine app features are specific to each project and the specific needs of that project. For that reason, our project managers work closely with clients, keeping an open line of communication to ensure the client is satisfied with the project and can make any necessary changes as it progresses. If you’re ready to take the first step in making your idea for a new telehealth service a reality, please contact us today.