If your idea of ??a doctor’s appointment is to spend hours in a waiting room with old magazines to talk to a guy with a stethoscope, think again. Medical technology is advancing rapidly and can provide completely virtual healthcare. Various services don’t replace traditional, face-to-face medical care but help minimize symptoms, educate the patient on medications and treatments, prevent the spread of infections, and alleviate an overburdened health care system.
Virtual healthcare systems have been around for a long time, but it was the COVID-19 pandemic that popularized many of these tools. With the difficulty of access to hospitals and clinics, the demands of the health crisis increased the use of medical technology. There are many innovations in the world of medical care, and they each offer unique benefits.
Consultations have been carried out by live video calls on a computer or cell phone for some time now. In addition to allowing faster communication, telehealth facilitates contact between patients and doctors, eliminating the need to travel to a clinic or hospital and wait for a face-to-face consultation.
Of course, not all types of consultations can be performed remotely. Many treatments still require the doctor to assess the patient physically to find out what is wrong. Even so, telehealth can be a quick alternative to getting help faster and talking to a doctor about your symptoms without leaving home.
The resource is especially popular today for mental health treatments. Many people just need to talk and be heard by an expert, and this can be done more quickly by video calling, wherever the patient is. It also reduces turnover, as you can stay with your preferred medical expert much longer.
- Data-Driven Care
Data-driven care is now widely practiced today. A higher collection of data results in more personalized healthcare, allows resources to be used to their full potential, and pinpoints which areas need the most attention.
The new generation of physicians is already leveraging data from alternative sources—such as apps and mobile devices. For example, a 2019 study found that monitoring the Apple watch’s daily data could help identify heart rate irregularities and prevent serious illness without the need for in-office tests.
- Access to Digital Information
Although some clinics still keep tons of paper files, medical software makes it easier to keep track of all patient information and medical records. There are some advances in storing and organizing the data of all patients treated, as countless pieces of information need to be kept for future analyses. The 21st Century Cures Act encouraged clinics to adopt electronic health records (EHR), the digital version of the traditional patient record filled on paper.
With this digitized data, it is faster and easier to share medical records between professionals and clinics. It’s still common to come across information blocking when trying to access patient records from other providers. But the Cures Act tries to ensure that patients can more quickly access their electronic health information. This can greatly improve the efficiency and quality of care.
- Mobile Clinics
This improvement has become even more common in pandemic times when health professionals widely used mobile or pop-up clinics to administer vaccines to low-income communities without access to nearby clinics or hospitals, or even in rural areas. Mobile clinics are a great alternative to bring basic health services to underserved populations. Vaccines are a trending topic, but these clinics can also offer preventive exams, dental or pediatric care, chronic disease management, etc.
There are already 2,000 mobile clinics located across the country. While the most common format is to use vacant space in a church, community hall, or school, mobile clinics can actually be mobile using vehicles such as buses or vans, operating even closer to patients and reducing costs with physical structure.
There are more than 400,000 healthcare apps available today for different purposes. Some take on the role of a digital clinic, helping the patient with appointment scheduling or basic patient information. But others are helping to diagnose, track or treat illnesses, collecting lots of important data for specialists to analyze remotely.
One such app is Ada, which makes diagnostics automatically. The user answers a series of questions, the app’s algorithm analyzes the answers and then suggests possible health problems. Instead of prescribing medication, like an actual doctor, Ada proposes what you should do based on the symptoms. Many clinics have started using Ada as an early triage system.
Another practical app is MySugr, which helps diabetic patients track their blood sugar levels by inputting their data daily. Also, BetterHelp quickly connects mental health patients to licensed online therapists and counselors. These apps make it easier to take charge of your health remotely.
The Healthcare of the Future Today
Despite all these digital and remote solutions, the use of healthcare technology still faces some resistance. Many patients prefer to speak face-to-face with a doctor, believing they will not receive quality service remotely. Connectivity issues or lack of access to apps can also turn patients away from these technological resources.
But the COVID-19 crisis showed that there’s room for new ways of providing medical care—some of them much faster, more practical, and especially cheaper. For example, during the first quarter of 2020, the number of telehealth consultations increased by 50 percent. Therefore it’s possible that in the “new normal,” these advances are adopted as routine practices rather than alternatives.