The exponential spread of COVID-19 across the world has forced us to accept a new convention of leading life that involves distance and discipline. It is our responsibility to not only save ourselves but also to protect lives, safeguard the vulnerable, shield the frontline workers and secure the entire healthcare system through the pandemic. As we understand the necessity of social distancing in today’s context, medical distancing has also been prioritised by the World Health Organization to minimize physical contact between patients and healthcare providers. It is for the benefit of both the patients and the physicians that virtual treatment is now practiced everywhere.
“I’d estimate that the majority of patient consultations in the United States are now happening virtually”, says Ray Dorsey, director of the Center for Health and Technology at the University of Rochester Medical Center (Rochester, NY, USA). With a ten-fold increase in two weeks’ time, the transformation is one of the biggest in the history of US health care. Similar trends were reported from countries like China, Canada, UK and many other European countries . History suggests that measures imposed during emergency often outlasts the emergency period. This is what is expected to happen in case of digitization of the healthcare system. Now, that will be advantageous to many, while there will also be a downside of it.
Why ehealth is going viral?
There are numerous patients, probably more than COVID-19 positive cases, who are suffering from chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, cardio-thoracic diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, neurological disorders who needs regular check-ups and monitoring by physicians and healthcare professionals. Unfortunately, they would be exposed to a greater threat, the virus, if they try to maintain their routine check-up by visiting the doctors. Therefore, telemedicine comes for their rescue. With the innovations in healthcare technology and communication system, it is now possible to monitor many vital signs at home through wearable/point of care medical devices and present the reports to the doctors through virtual platforms. Imagine the amount of risk that got reduced through this remote care facility. While it prevents the spread of infection during COVID-19 crisis, it can save a lot of valuable time and physical space in post pandemic era. This, in turn, will make the health monitoring cheaper and affordable for many around the world. Remote health monitoring through telemetry and telemedicine will be a boon for India, especially rural India, which is deprived of basic healthcare facility . Moreover, crowdsourced disease monitoring, a part of virtual health monitoring is generating huge amount of data for the researchers for disease detection and prediction. Overall, the transition from a previously slow adoption path of digital healthcare solution to becoming the new normal seems inevitable.
While experts believe that telehealth can significantly slow down the spread of infections and flatten the current epidemic curve, uncertainty regarding payments and insurance coverage distract both patients and healthcare providers from its use. Legal liabilities for damages and malpractices, unreliability regarding privacy and confidentiality, unmet patient and provider expectations are some of the areas that can addressed by policy makers of health systems. Once resolved, telehealth can transform the entire healthcare system in favour of patients and service providers. But the real challenge remains for the elderly or not so tech savvy people. It is upon us, the health care innovators to produce simple, user friendly applications that can be effective and suitable for region specific people of different age groups and educational backgrounds.
Beyond the pandemic, we need well defined and easy-to-understand guidelines and regulations for the use of ehealth technologies. The guidelines should be realistic enough to take care of user expectations. Although virtual treatments cannot completely replace traditional physical care, it can certainly reduce the burden of the health care system and make it accessible to a larger community.
- Webster, Paul. “Virtual health care in the era of COVID-19.” The Lancet 395.10231 (2020): 1180-1181.
- Babu, Sudheer, et al. “Smart telemetry kit for proactive health monitoring in rural India: The journey so far and the road ahead.” 2018 IEEE 20th International Conference on e-Health Networking, Applications and Services (Healthcom). IEEE, 2018.
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