By Pavan Attur, CIO, Hudson Regional Hospital
COVID-19 has a significant impact on all industries and mainly healthcare. Many lives were lost and hospitals and healthcare workers had to deal with unprecedented situation dealing with the new virus. This pandemic forced everyone adopt to new ways of delivering care in a safe and cost-effective manner. COVID-19 became the Chief Transformation Officer in healthcare to provide care virtually using telehealth technology.
Though telehealth technology has been in the industry for over a decade, adoption has been slow for various reasons. However, pandemic forced everyone to offer care virtually to provide continuous healthcare to the patient population and to stay competent in the highly competitive healthcare market.
With big tech companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Google investing more in healthcare delivery, the healthcare market is becoming more competitive. Once big tech companies expand healthcare services through joint ventures with hospitals and health systems and with price transparency and restriction on surprise bills regulations patient population will be able to browse online and shop for the best healthcare provider less expensively instead of walking into an ER or Urgent Care Facility. At the same time, this is a great opportunity for innovative healthcare organizations to create a new line of business as telehealth hubs to provide telehealth on-demand care 24/7 by forming joint ventures with other tech and healthcare organizations.
1) Recent trends in mobile applications used in healthcare
- Pandemic forced everyone to implement and use mobile for various use cases such as Telehealth, integrating wearable devices with mobile apps to track health conditions, pre-visit registration paperwork completion and check-in prior to arrival, access patient charts, lab results, and radiology reports from anywhere, etc.
- Apps for healthcare organizations: inventory management, secure texting, etc.
- Apps for healthcare professionals: Telehealth, remote diagnostics.
- Apps for patients and family members: Health tracking apps, fitness/wellness, monitoring of chronic conditions such as diabetes, blood sugar, women’s health apps.
2) Recent trends in virtual technologies used in healthcare
- Virtual healthcare is changing from telehealth visits to more interactive consumer/patient-driven technology.
- New solutions for contactless care are evolving. Patients can enter all information via mobile phone or from home.
- Advanced analytics and BI tools, targeted focus on groups of high-risk patient population will be possible to send alerts via text, mail, etc to encourage getting vaccines, attend virtual health webinars, etc.
- The evolution of 5G broadband internet into the healthcare space will enhance the overall user and physician experience.
- As virtual care expands, it will provide more opportunities to work remotely for Clinicians and Support Staff.
Though telehealth and virtual care were in place for over a decade, adoption was very low because of lack of awareness, confusion in charges for patients, and reimbursement for healthcare organizations for in-person care vs virtual care.
3) Common adoption and operational challenges in deploying mobile applications and other virtual health tools in healthcare.
- Though telehealth and virtual care were in place for over a decade, adoption was very low because of lack of awareness, confusion in charges for patients, and reimbursement for healthcare organizations for in-person care vs virtual care.
- Other challenges:
- Lack of broadband and smartphones in low-income communities.
- Lack of regulatory enforcement
- Lack of incentives or subsidies to promote telehealth technology implementation.
- Patient language
- Technology support for patients
- EHR integration
- Big data from discrete systems: How to consolidate and analyze data from remote monitoring and wearable devices in a physician friendly manner.
4) How to address the adoption and operational challenges in mobile applications and other virtual health tools?
- Incentives or grants to invest in mobile clinics and provide smartphones to low-income families.
- Evaluate reimbursement models, come up with some standards for care provided for in-patient vs virtual, and implement new incentives for organizations who meet some percentage of virtual care and penalties who don’t meet standards. Similar to the ARRA meaningful use initiative that helped promote EHRs implementation and adoption at most of the healthcare organizations.
- Invest in cybersecurity infrastructure and services.
- Lack of interoperability among disparate systems and different healthcare organizations is one of the major reasons for duplicate tests and higher cost of healthcare. EHR vendors and healthcare providers should break the barriers and share data for better patient care. Operationally this may be difficult in highly competitive Urban Areas, but if CMS defines some standards and rules regarding data sharing requirements, this should be possible.
5) How mobile health applications and other virtual health tools are transforming the healthcare industry?
- Proactive monitoring and real-time alerting via apps if there are any infectious disease outbreaks in certain parts of the world and precautions to be taken, so everyone is better prepared.
- Healthcare becomes more retail with virtual care and mobile apps. Patients can browse through and check for healthcare providers in a region, consumer ratings, cost estimates, any promotions, etc., just like online shopping.