Digital health or telehealth has come into its own lime light in the past year. Telehealth visits increased 154% during the last week of March 2020 alone and telehealth claims increased by a whopping 2980% throughout 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly accelerated the adoption of virtual healthcare solutions and dispelled many of the perceived barriers of telehealth — for health systems, their patients and providers. As we are beginning to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, healthcare organizations emerge to a new landscape and are left wondering what this new digital health frontier will look like and how it will impact their organizations.
Rene LaVigne is the President and CEO of Iron Bow Healthcare Solutions (the telehealth arm of Iron Bow Technologies), a leading digital health solution provider dedicated to successfully transforming technology investments into digital health solutions that work for both patients and providers. Here are some insights he has on the new frontier of today’s digital health.
What are the biggest ways digital health has changed since COVID-19?
A year ago, the healthcare industry was forced to approach care delivery in a virtual way and this has allowed room for digital health applications and solutions to mature. Instead of being seen as a last resort, telehealth moved to the forefront of the industry and was given room to grow and reach its full potential. Healthcare organizations have integrated these tools and solutions into their clinical processes and workflows to provide a seamless consultation experience, optimized health resources and efficiencies within care facilities. Of course, this had a wide variety of impacts across the care delivery spectrum.
What are some of those impacts? What can people do now that they couldn’t do before?
The maturation of tools allows providers and patients to have a much more effective encounter. If an organization can provide a relatively easy and high quality tool for physicians or providers to use, it greatly increases their utilization and the same goes for the patients. If you make telehealth easier, more intuitive, not only will more patients utilize telehealth but their outcomes will more likely improve, as well.
Of course, not all healthcare can be done remotely. For example, within in-patient or hospital settings, digital health tools like patient monitoring devices provide the opportunity for patients to be continuously monitored or it can facilitate virtual rounding – keeping both providers and patients at a safe distance for COVID measures. From a fiscal perspective, having a dependable remote patient monitoring device could also potentially save a healthcare organization precious dollars on their bottom line by allowing one resource to monitor multiple patients at a time instead of needing multiple staff to manage a single patient.
Finally, certain procedural efforts can be performed remotely utilizing sophisticated toolsets and applications. For example, there are digital health tools that can be sent to a patient’s home like a blood pressure cuff or a wearable device that can be digitally tracked and recorded from a provider office to monitor a patient’s wellbeing from a distance.
How has the development of digital health changed the overall healthcare landscape?
While we can be sure that the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting effects – some of which will be permanent – in a broader sense, the new landscape of digital health has provided new space for a plethora of changes to healthcare: enhanced access to patients and providers, it allowed for certain procedural activities to now take place remotely, and has lowered direct and indirect costs. Furthermore, it created efficiencies in both time and resources for providers, personnel and patients. And these are just a few changes we’re seeing. It will be interesting and exciting to see how the industry will learn to optimize these new opportunities to improve patient outcomes and streamline their back end processes.
When you look out into this “new frontier” what do you see?
I see a new landscape that will provide seamless options for patient engagement including scheduling, management and encounters. Digital health tools are constantly improving and making it easier and more intuitive for patients to play an active role in their own care.
A new digital health environment means physicians can make their rounds virtually, e-sitters can manage more than one patient concurrently, and specialists can be engaged to provide specific orders. And it doesn’t have to stop there. Telehealth now means we can think in a global way. Provider resources can be leveraged internationally to bring the best expertise to a specific healthcare concern or region outside the borders of one country. Ultimately, we will have a ubiquitous healthcare delivery system that allows for sharing of data across platforms.
Finally, we can move our population health philosophy forward from ‘sick care’ to preventive care by driving closer to a comprehensive healthcare landscape.
Where do you see digital health going now that we’re moving past the pandemic?
The pandemic has put a bright light on healthcare delivery that has shown us we must have alternative means of facilitating patient encounters and consultation. Those health systems that do not have a digital health platform need to develop one or they’ll be left behind. Those that have been testing their platforms will be able to move to expansion and growth. And those that had some form of maturity will take aggressive steps forward for a more comprehensive approach that can only lift the state of healthcare for all those involved. I’m sure all of us are tired of pandemic life but if the healthcare changes we’ve already seen are any indication of what’s to come, it’s going to be an impressive future.
For more information on Iron Bow Healthcare Solutions’ digital health capabilities including end point devices, managed services and software, click here.