By Saloni Walimbe, research content developer, Global Market Insights.
With the COVID-19 pandemic unleashing its impact on a global scale, numerous nations are scrambling to adopt various strategies and protocols to mitigate further spread of the virus. One common protocol initiated across more than 25 nations is social distancing.
In a bid to ensure this social distancing, worldwide economies have begun the implementation of partial or complete lockdowns. While this is considered to be a largely helpful endeavor, one challenge arising from these lockdowns is limitations in access to healthcare. This presents a significant conundrum for global populations as the need for healthcare access is becoming increasingly important in the current scenario.
Amid these concerns, however, technology presents a lucrative solution; telemedicine.
Many healthcare facilities and regulatory authorities are rapidly seeking alternative healthcare solutions to offer seamless medical aid whilst mitigating risk of exposure. Telemedicine shows immense potential in this regard, by limiting the need for hospital visits, and implementing more optimized allocations of hospital capacity to integral cases, by offering access to robust healthcare through digital means.
The telemedicine market is also witnessing great support from global regulatory authorities like WHO and CDC in recent times, in an effort to safeguard medical staff and other frontline workers, without influencing the delivery of healthcare services.
The evolution of telemedicine
Telemedicine refers to the use of software and electronic communication devices to deliver clinical services to patients, without the need to make in-person visits to the hospital. Telemedicine technology is used extensively for chronic condition management, medication management, follow-up visits, and a host of such healthcare services, via secure audio and video connections.
While telemedicine has emerged as a prominent entity only in recent years, it has been in existence for several years. The origins of the telemedicine industry can be traced as far back as the 1950s, when certain university medial centers and hospital systems began to experiment with methods to share images and information through the telephone. Two Pennsylvania health centers were among the first to achieve success with this technology, through the transmission of radiologic images via telephone.
Over time, telemedicine technologies began to evolve, and witnessed a significant turn with the rise of the internet. With the emergence of smart devices, designed to facilitate high-quality video transmission, delivery of remote healthcare solutions to patients in their workplaces, homes or assisted living facilities became more prevalent, thus presenting an ideal alternative to in-person clinical visits for both specialized and primary healthcare.
Rising risk of COVID-19 transmission through contact is necessitating the development of effective telemedicine solutions
As concerns arising from the global pandemic continue to surge, telemedicine is beginning to emerge as a lucrative and sustainable preventative and treatment solution to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Virtual care services are helping bridge the gap between the population, health systems, and physicians. These solutions enable everybody, particularly symptomatic patients, to seek medical health from the comfort of their homes and communicate seamlessly with their doctors via digital means, thus reducing the risk of exposure for both medical staff as well as the general population.
In the last few months, both governments as well as regulatory bodies across the globe are executing policy updates to accommodate telehealth services. For instance, in the US, the American Medical Association (AMA) has published several guidelines and resources to support the adoption of telemedicine. These guidelines are designed to ensure the provision of remote healthcare solutions to everyone who needs it, whilst ensuring the safety of both patients and medical workers.
Bolstered by the evolving regulatory framework, several startups and industry participants are also making efforts to develop and deliver robust virtual healthcare services.
To illustrate, Korea-based Myongji Hospital has inked an agreement with a security solution firm ITX-M2M. Through this alliance, the entities aim to develop a robust telemedicine platform to deliver decentralized healthcare, by leveraging health bots and home healthcare to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, telemedicine innovations firm StethoMe is also set to roll out an AI-powered wireless stethoscope. The product is the result of the firm’s collaboration with prominent virtual healthcare providers HomeDoctor and MaQuestionMedicale. The device is EU-certified and is designed to record respiratory abnormalities through self-examination, using smart technology and a mobile application that communicates the results to the clinician in order to identify next steps.
Likewise, virtual healthcare companion technology Pager offers an omni-channel, customized remote healthcare experience through an AI-based Horizon Blue mobile app. The telemedicine technology offers convenient access to a vast array of virtual care services from licensed medical workers, risk assessment services and designated locations for emergency treatment and testing for COVID-19.
Is it here to stay? – Future prospects of telemedicine
While telemedicine itself has been available in many nations for years, its prominence has risen considerably since the advent of this pandemic. For many years, numerous patients, especially those in remote and rural areas, were unaware of this option, while healthcare systems and physicians as well as patients were resistant to the technology and did not accept it as a legitimate means of medical care delivery.
As the COVID-19 impact worsens, however, the medical device sector is rapidly accommodating the virtual world and is most likely to continue the trend even after the pandemic abates. Various experts have claimed that the proliferating acceptance of telemedicine in accordance with COVID-19 safety recommendations will promote the use of the technology long after the crisis is over.
Furthermore, the emergence of new technological innovations like 5G and robotics is also contributing towards cementing telemedicine as the new normal for public healthcare services. In Thailand, for example, the AIS (Advanced Info Service) has set aside nearly 100 million baht to fight the spread of the coronavirus. A prominent part of this effort is the establishment of an AIS robotics lab team to develop robots equipped with 5G functionality to assist medical workers.
AIS has provided, robots alongside peripheral platforms such as enterprise cloud services, to over 7 healthcare facilities, to enable the efficient treatment of COVID-19 patients. These telemedicine devices are designed to take over the monitoring and care for patients from healthcare workers, which could potentially reduce physical contact and mitigate transmission risk, effectively safeguarding the medical personnel, without compromising on the medical care.