The recent global medical crisis forced people into isolation and even quarantine environments. It also revealed weaknesses in such areas as medical translation and interpretation services that were previously viewed more as a matter of convenience rather than as an absolute necessity.
There is talk today of an imminent second wave of the Coronavirus crisis and further lock-downs and more extensive isolation being put in place to stem the spread of the virus. Is the telehealth industry ready for a new wave? What weaknesses in remote health care remain to be addressed? What does the future of telehealth hold to help not only in times of crisis but in everyday life?
Remote Healthcare, Telehealth, and Medical Interpretation Services
There was a time in the not-so-distant past, and even to this day in many cases, where medical interpretation services are seen as more of a nuisance than they are a real benefit. In the United States, this is especially common with Spanish interpretation but remains a common occurrence that can be effectively resolved with remote medical interpreters and other telehealth solutions. The role of remote medical interpreters should increase in use and importance in the world of telehealth and telemedicine.
The role of the medical interpreter can be exceptionally challenging, especially given the lack of specific knowledge regarding medical terminology. In lieu of a more pleasant sampling, the example here will focus on the specificity of relevant medical terminology that is especially important given the nature of the coronavirus pandemic.
When individuals are gathered in a more informal conversation regarding colds, cases of flu and COVID-19, they may refer to a more generic word like “spit.” In reality, this is not so much a medical term as phlegm, saliva, and mucus, all three of which have a more specific medical meaning, and all three of which are very relevant to a proper diagnosis and treatment, most notably in terms of any potential respiratory disorders such as those produced by the Coronavirus family.
Any time when someone who is not a professional or certified medical interpreter is used, there is an increased risk that the precise medical meaning of the term may not be fully understood in either language, and the incorrect translation will result in a misdiagnosis.
The potential implications of such a seemingly simple and inconsequential error in a medical interpretation are especially far reaching these days. The potential for a misdiagnosed patient to go out and continue the spread of COVID-19 is compounded each day as the patient goes about their normal, daily routine.
The dramatic increase in the use of remote video interpreters and other certified medical interpretation services will ideally lead to improved telehealth technologies, increased use and greatly assist in the improvement for all patients, most notably those with a Limited English Proficiency level or LEP patients using telehealth services.
Telehealth Care Services and Remote Rural Communities
There are a surprisingly large number of occasions when certified medical interpreters are needed even in domestic health care, more notably in rural areas within the United States. To more fully understand this prevalent need, take a moment to understand the nature of healthcare in more rural areas.
There are many hospitals that have a very limited staff on hand. In fact, it is not at all uncommon for someone to have to literally ring a door bell in order to gain access to an emergency room during off hours. In these same rural communities, a great many foreigners are employed to work the dairy farms, in beef or other meat processing plants, and for a great many other agricultural pursuits.
This same argument may hold true for many more isolated and rural healthcare providers in Louisiana where the Cajun and Creole English dialects may very well require the services of an interpreter given the difficulty medical professionals from other areas of the nation may have understanding the people who live in these areas.
What is the Difference Between Telehealth and Telemedicine
It should be noted that both telehealth and telemedicine have seen a massive increase in use due in large part to the global coronavirus outbreak. It is important however, to note that there is a major difference between telehealth and telemedicine, just as there is a difference between urban and rural medical care facilities.
What is the difference between telehealth and telemedicine? Telehealth is a broader and more wide field of interest regarding remote service providers offering everything from health education services to remote diagnostics to preventative measures and beyond. Telemedicine is more of a subset of the telehealth industry and more indicative of clinical health services being provided remotely by qualified doctors and other medical experts.
Telehealth services are desperately needed in many isolated and more rural locations despite recent growth, but there are also a great many drawbacks to its use at present. The Washington Post has taken a look at some of the many restrictions that make telehealth services unpractical in some of the locations that are most in need and at risk without these services being established.
Weaknesses and the Future of Telehealth and Telemedicine
There is little doubt that among the largest weaknesses within the telehealth industry that have been exposed by the Covid-19 outbreak, is the physical infrastructure itself. While this may not be an issue in larger cities, neither, as a rule, is the ability to actively engage certified medical interpreters, medical specialists and an ability to accommodate the needs of most patients.
In more rural areas, the requisite infrastructure is often lacking, and the inability to participate in a more seamless and interruption free consultation may inhibit patients from fully utilizing telehealth services.
There also appear to be issues and concerns in regards to the actual interface and the ability of the patients to verify both their data and their identity. This particular challenge within the telehealth and telemedicine industries has the potential to be much more devastating at present.
There certainly needs to be some means to ensure the privacy of both the patient and their data, but in rural areas where older, less “technically savvy” people are more likely to be telehealth candidates, this can still be a major concern. These people are also going to be among those most challenged by difficult computer interfaces.
Strengths and the Future of Telehealth and Telemedicine
Conversely, look for many improvements in the telehealth industry over the coming months and years as the lessons learned from the Covid-19 outbreak are explored, addressed and rectified. Look for an increasing number of investors to vigorously push the telehealth industries through technological advances and the establishment of new corporations with more of a focus specifically on the telehealth care industries.
Look for an increasing number of translation companies and medical interpreters to form larger groups of remote, certified medical interpreters that will be on call during the day or night to provide remote medical interpretation services for hospitals and other large-scale or group healthcare facilities.
In the coming decade, look also for an increasing number of “smart devices” to be developed specific to the telehealth industry. Among the most promising at present are many devices for tracking the health of the individual and for issuing warnings any time there is a physical problem with a person.
There is also very like going to be an additional increase in the use of telemedical devices that can actually assist with diagnosis and treatments for the individuals. While these devices may occasionally be large and unwieldy, look for them to be implemented more frequently in outpatient care and treatment.
This last point also brings us to look at government experts who have indicated that there is an ongoing push for more telehealth services to be covered and eligible for insurance, full payment or even reimbursement programs to offset the cost of these devices.
While the increases in production and use will eventually drive prices down, the ability to supplement the original programs should lead to benefits in both knowledge and an improvement of the systems and in an ultimate reduction in costs.
Along these same lines, it is also possible that there will be a relatively minor uptick in the free use of these offsite or in-home medical devices for the purposes of testing. While these programs may be fewer in number, they will undoubtedly lead to real-world results based on real-world scenarios and greatly help in the improvement of telehealth services for everyone.
Finally, look for a more patient centered user experience in the telehealth and telemedicine fields. The technological revolution is no longer a distant science fiction dream, but a stark reality of the world we live in today. While there may be some more of the proverbial speed bumps and other obstacles to overcome, look for an overall increase in the use of telehealth medicine from here on into the foreseeable future.