While every industry has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects have varied. Some have simply been effectively shut down – like cruise lines, which now have to start convincing travelers their ships will be safe. Others, despite having to manage their own workforces differently, have seen increases in business, like many communications providers, whose cloud-base services have enabled millions of businesses to transition to teleworking.
But nobody has seen an impact like the healthcare community. Not only are providers having to deal with the pandemic themselves, and the distancing and infections that are part of it, but they are tasked with testing and treating patients who have contracted the virus, while trying to manage its spread. All that while also trying to help existing patients.
That’s where many of them have fallen short.
There’s no question, some healthcare providers have done an admirable job of continuing to treat patients through telehealth solutions. Moe Nagle recently spoke with Doximity, which has seen a massive increase in the telehealth engagements.
A number of other providers and agencies have implemented telehealth to help them more effectively manage the outbreak, largely driven by the relaxed regulations CMS and HHS have implemented during the national health crisis. But, the unfortunate fact is many existing patients are falling through the cracks – including those suffering from chronic conditions that require regular care and monitoring.
Current research suggests that more than half of chronic disease patients are not receiving the ongoing care they need. These are patients suffering from heart conditions, diabetes, lung disease, obesity, or even increase anxiety due to the pandemic – or any number of other conditions. Sixty percent of American adults suffer from at least one chronic condition, and 40% have multiple comorbidities.
These are some of the patients more desperately in need of care, yet 57% say they have not gotten the help they need during the crisis, and 52% say they haven’t even received information that would help them better manage their conditions on their own.
It’s a case truly made for telehealth, especially when also considering that, 74% also have and increased desire to take better control of their own health, and 68% believe access to virtual care management tools and information would help them do that. These figures span both older and younger patient groups, showing perhaps a decline in the age gap in terms of telehealth acceptance.
Telehealth technologies – including virtual visits, automated reminders and information exchange, remote patient monitoring, healthcare apps, and more – can all help increase engagement between physicians and their patients. They can also help patients more effectively manage their conditions, and provide physicians the data they need to treat patients, without extending their already strained resources. In fact, with the automation of connected health platforms, many aspects of care management can be accomplished with connected devices. For instance:
- Connected RPM devices can automatically deliver readings to providers
- Alerts can be set up to inform providers or caregivers when situations arise that require intervention
- AI-driven chatbots can provide information to patients, either through chat or voice
- Automated reminders can be leveraged to help patients keep to their treatments regimens, whether that’s a diet plan, medication adherence, or exercise program, or anything else.
- Virtual visits can replace in-person visits to maximize physician time, reduce travel and risk for patients, and even allow physicians to be called in to support overburdened providers
This is only a starting point. There’s much more that can be done to alleviate the strain on the healthcare community – which existed long before this pandemic. But, as is often the case, new technologies need to build momentum, and in highly regulated industries, like healthcare, it may take an extraordinary situation to make telehealth a mainstream tool.
While regulatory questions remain – including how and when will relaxed requirements be adjusted to reflect the increased in adoption during the pandemic and promote its continued use – what’s certain is connected health has helped many organizations manage during the crisis. But, based on the number of patients who have not had access to care, there’s still a lot to be done. Regulation is necessary, but government agencies, healthcare providers, and insurers all have to collaborate to craft policy that will ensure all patients have access to the care they need at all times. This has been a case study in healthcare technology – now it’s up to them to take lessons from it.