The healthcare industry is currently one of the fastest-growing industries on the market. Since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, one of its branches, due to its specificity and wide range of applications, has gained particular popularity – TeleHealth. The market size of telehealth was valued at USD 83.5 billion globally, and it’s expected to grow by 24% globally from 2023 to 2030 at a compound annual growth rate. What makes it a future direction? What are the telehealth development forecasts for 2024?
What is Telehealth?
The definition of telehealth refers to it as providing virtual medical services with the use of telecommunication technologies. It includes everything from the electronic delivery of patient health information and prescriptions to remote interactions between patients and doctors in different locations. Telehealth is a healthcare delivery process, usually using communication technologies like the internet, video conferencing, streaming media, etc.
Telehealth – facts and myths
Until recently, no one could imagine providing healthcare services online or over the phone. The 21st century has changed this dramatically. Unfortunately, because the telemedicine sector is still relatively new, many myths and misconceptions have accumulated around it. In the beginning, it’s worth checking what’s actually the truth about them and getting to know the digital health area a little better.
Myth #1: Telemedicine is new, untested, and cannot be trusted.
Fact: It is true that telehealth began to appear in patients’ awareness only recently and gained its popularity mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic and its dynamic development. However, its actual birth can be considered much earlier. According to the definition of telehealth, referring to it as the provision of medical services at a distance, we can include all attempts at remote treatment in this category. The first documented mention of remote prescriptions dates back to 1726 when some woman was writing letters to her doctor about her health condition, and in response, he was prescribing her medications and describing treatment methodologies.
In the second half of the 19th century, during the Industrial Revolution in England, there was a breakthrough in the field of telehealth. New remote communication tools, such as the telegraph and telephone, have enabled medical professionals to diagnose patients at a distance accurately. Teleradiology began here thanks to the possibility of sending images (also X-rays) by telegraph.
However, the first surgical operation performed remotely took place on September 7, in the year 2001. During this operation (which was called “Operation Lindbergh”), the medical operator was in New York while the patient was in Strasburg at the time!
Telehealth has a very wide application – from simple online medical consultations to complex telemedical MRI descriptions based on data analytics, as well as remote monitoring of astronauts’ vital signs in space developed by NASA.
Myth #2: A reliable diagnosis can only be made based on an on-site medical examination.
Fact: It is a fact that some branches of medicine require the patient’s physical presence in the doctor’s office – for example, orthopedics. But even here, telemedicine has its application – e.g., post-operative rehabilitation.
A great example is a mobile app that we created based on our client’s idea, thanks to which the patient is diagnosed and then receives an individually customized therapy session, which consists of appropriately selected rehabilitation exercises to be performed at home. The idea behind it is to help patients in the same effective way as a visit to a physiotherapist.
With the openness of both the patient and healthcare professionals to this form of diagnosis and treatment, it’s now possible to effectively treat almost half of the cases. With the development of the HealthTech and MedTech industries, this number will continue to grow. The remote form of diagnosing and treating patients will probably never fully replace the traditional form, but it can be perfect as a supplement to it.
Myth #3: Telemedicine is good only for treating mild cases.
Fact: Just as in the case of a traditional clinic visit, the doctor is not always able to make a diagnosis without ordering additional tests, so in the case of a telemedicine consultation, it’s done the same way. In case of sudden and life-threatening symptoms, telemedicine can’t replace a visit to the hospital. However, it can also be quite helpful here – thanks to the current access to information and treatment history, which is possible thanks to telemedicine, the doctor can react much faster and more effectively than, for example, an operator sending the ambulance.
Thanks to modern medical equipment equipped with applications for measuring and analyzing data, such as blood pressure monitors, ECG recorders, and others, more and more tests can be performed online, regardless of the distance between the doctor and the patient.
Myth #4: Using telehealth services is not safe.
Fact: In the HealthTech industry, security and data protection are extremely important. Not only do healthcare professionals conducting the online examinations use HIPAA-compliant software, but many telehealth service providers also comply with ISO 13485 certification standards, which relate to the quality management systems for medical devices and services. This ensures high operational efficiency, safety, and the maintenance of confidentiality for sensitive patient data, just as in the case of an in-office visit. You can learn more about data security in the HealthTech industry by reading one of our previous articles on this topic.
Fact: In HealthTech industry, security and data protection are extremely important. The healthcare professionals conducting the online examination must use HIPAA-compliant software and maintain the confidentiality of sensitive patient data, as in the case of an in-office visit. You can learn more about data security in the HealthTech industry by reading one of our previous articles on this topic.
Telehealth trends and innovations for 2024
As the branch of telehealth is constantly evolving, we can expect more and more improvements and innovations introduced in this field in the near future. The telehealth industry constantly evolves, and healthcare organizations should be prepared for changes.
Greater participation of AI and ML in remote healthcare services
It’s predicted that in 2024, the participation of Artificial Intelligence technology and Machine Learning in telehealth will increase due to their growing popularity and extent, thanks to their wide range of applications. What’s more, recent studies proved that these solutions can help healthcare companies reduce their operational costs by 30%. With the use of AI, healthcare providers can introduce many improvements, for example, an automatic schedule of appointments, track patients’ progress, or create patients’ treatment plans in a more personalized way. On the other hand, Machine Learning can be helpful, for example, in an early diagnosis of a patient’s disease. To learn more about this topic, read our previous article about the impact of ML on the HealthTech industry.
A Tele-Intensive Care Unit is a system for monitoring and remotely providing care for patients who are critically ill. To do that, it uses video, two-way audio, and real-time remote data monitoring. Tele-ICU has access to all data available in EHR, and also all vital signs and other information from the bedside monitor of a patient, like heart rate, oxygen level, blood pressure, and more. The greatest advantage of the tele-ICU systems is that it drastically reduce mortality rates among ICU patients thanks to the accelerated reaction time of clinicians to changes in a patient’s health condition. In the future, personalized, patient-oriented intensive care with the usage of healthcare technology will become commonplace. The Tele-ICUs market is expected to grow to USD 5 billion by the year 2028.
Bigger integration of EHR
Next year, we will also see some innovations in the field of remote patient monitoring with the use of Electronic Health Records. So far, we have observed that the lack of integration with existing EHR was quite a big challenge for the telehealth industry. According to the predictions for the year 2023, this issue is expected to be slowly changing. Greater EHR integration will allow healthcare providers easier access to the patient’s data and, thus, more coordinated healthcare processes. What’s more, thanks to the integration, patients can access their health information from any device, making tracking progress much more convenient and efficient.
Increased chronic care management
Another major change telehealth will bring next year is a greater focus on chronic diseases, affecting about a third of adults. Many of these diseases could be prevented or treated by implementing preventive care methods into patients’ lives or lifestyle habits. Most patients don’t follow their treatment, don’t refill their prescriptions, or don’t meet the doctor regularly to have their disease symptoms under control. The potential of telehealth is invaluable because it can not only increase patients’ engagement and adherence to their treatment but it can also reduce the costs of a care plan. Long queues to the doctor’s office or the cost of regular commuting to hospitals and doctors won’t be a problem anymore. Telehealth will enable patients to contact their doctors in an easy and quick way. Thanks to more frequent and regular interactions, problems can be detected early enough to lower the risk of further complications.
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TeleHealth – a part of a post-pandemic reality
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of telehealth solutions and virtual care in traditional healthcare and completely transformed the healthcare system. But can the new healthcare technology trends and remote solutions completely replace traditional medicine? I don’t think so, but it could be a perfect complement to it. Technology can be instrumental in this area, helping relieve overcrowded hospitals and all healthcare organizations, relieving the budget of state medical care, saving patients’ time and nerves, and improving patient health and lives.