B-TAC

The Blog to Transform Advanced Care

Advancing Care through Innovation, Observation and Collaboration.

By: Kenny Rakwong, Database, Operations, and Research Intern, C-TAC

Developing Technologies: Telehealth

We are no longer just making calls on our phones, but our phones have become a versatile tool that most of us can’t live without. The United States has one of the largest smartphone markets in the world, with one of the highest smartphone penetration rates worldwide. Nearly 80 percent (257.3 million) of the U.S. population are carrying one of these minicomputers in their back pocket. Technology is continuously developing due to pressures to improve efficiency and service in all sectors, including the healthcare field. With this advancement in technology, palliative care programs and hospices around the United States are looking into telehealth technology as an opportunity to improve care as well as bridge the gap between health care providers and the patients in their home.

Throughout the 20th century and going into the 21st century, the incomes and the general health of the population of the West has increased tremendously. People have become richer and their demand for health care has increased. At the same time, the cost of health care has risen faster. In 2017, the United States spent about $3.5 trillion, or 18 percent of its gross domestic product, on health expenditures – more than twice the average among developed countries. With health services being a very labor-intensive and expensive procedure, health care technologies such as mobile applications may be able to improve access to health care and health information at lower costs leading to health improvements for the general population. Industry estimates that in 2017, nearly 325,000 health care applications were available in app stores with an expected 3.7 billion downloads that year by smartphone users worldwide. Users ranged from health care professionals to patients and consumers. Smartphones can offer a large number of features and functions, from assisting people with managing their health and wellness and promoting healthy living to gaining access to useful information, when and where they need it.

Telehealth in Rural Areas

Statistics show that those living in rural areas are more likely to be in poor health and have higher mortality rates for chronic conditions; this is normally a result of the poor access to care compared to urban and suburban communities. Using health care applications in rural areas to deliver healthcare services can reduce or minimize challenges in regard to transportation. This is particularly helpful to patients who have mobility problems. Because care is primarily provided at home, it’s important to be available 24/7 as well as have the capability to monitor a patient’s data on a daily basis and visualize their advanced illness progression. Physicians can conduct virtual house calls and medical consultations through a video conference. This would mean that patients in rural areas will be connected with health care providers in major cities, provided with unprecedented access to the best care, as well as the capability of rural clinics being in constant contact with their primary location ensuring conjunction and conformity. From being used as a tool to keep track of seizures and recording headaches, to monitoring heart conditions in real-time, these apps are very useful for those living with advanced illnesses. These applications are also helpful for health care providers, giving them data summaries and activity logs to learn about their patient’s health and fitness activities. The potential of health-based applications in the telehealth industry is endless.

Telehealth and Caregivers

Caregivers undergo a large amount of strain when they assist a loved one. Considering the challenges that they face when living a busy life while also conducting everyday activities such as performing medical/nursing care tasks, monitoring the patient’s health and symptoms, communicating with healthcare professionals, and serving as the patient’s advocate when navigating the healthcare system, it’s no surprise that they need as much support they can get. Telehealth services can make their lives easier. With telehealth tools, caregivers receive access to additional resources to improve their caregiving experience. These include applications that assist with scheduling tasks, meal delivery, transportation, medical appointments, and visits which lighten the caregiving workload. Caregivers will also have access to supportive tools to facilitate their stress management. With online communities and social media tools, caregivers are able to receive social support from others that are also struggling with similar stressors and challenges. Being able to share experiences and advice with one another will allow caregivers to feel supported and have a community in a way that they otherwise would not have received from friends and families who do not fully understand the circumstances. The social support and practical assistance provided from telehealth applications will greatly improve the quality of life for caregivers. 

Telehealth and the FDA

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration supports the creation of mobile medical apps (MMAs) that will refine health care and supply consumers and healthcare professionals with meaningful information. The FDA also has a public health responsibility to supervise the safety and effectiveness of medical devices, including mobile medical apps. They have stepped in to begin reviewing and approving qualified applications. The FDA implements the same safety-centered approach when it comes to approving these apps as they do any other medical device. The mobile app market is expected to grow by about 25 percent annually in the foreseeable future with companies investing large amounts in developing new health applications. The FDA says it intends to stay updated and current with the expertise needed to evaluate mobile medical apps for which safe use and accuracy are critical to public health. Both patients and health care professionals have a lot to benefit from video conferences and health care applications.

Telehealth and COVID-19

In recent news, with the pandemic of the coronavirus making growing numbers in the United States, leaders in congress have voted and agreed on a bill that will allow Medicare reimbursements for care providers using telehealth services treating patients from home. U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a recent statement that in order to protect public health, the bill will allow Medicare providers to extend telemedicine services to seniors with an estimated cost of $500 million. Because being elderly and having advanced illnesses greatly increases the risk of dying from the disease the virus causes, telehealth would be an ideal venue and tool for an outbreak like this. It would enable healthcare providers to supply treatment to isolated patients, preventing the spread of the extremely contagious virus. As it begins to expand to large communities, we will need care to evolve to a method that allows our medical professionals to monitor patients at home in order to limit the spread of disease and not overwhelm our healthcare facilities. Mobile video conferences would be sufficient in being able to screen patients, assigning a level of risk or category, answering their questions and concerns, and recommending the next steps a patient should take. The virus is not only affecting coronavirus related patients, but also those with other health care needs unrelated to the virus. This is because some may be afraid to go to health care facilities to seek help due to fear of catching the disease.

Conclusion

C-TAC is delighted and proud to be working with many organizations among our membership that are doing exciting work in the telehealth industry, from providing applications that allow users the capability to record their medical treatment wishes, receive video-based sessions with specialists and healthcare providers, record patient data for continuous monitoring and symptom management. These applications are making lives easier for patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals as well as providing better care. The coronavirus pandemic demands that health care providers rethink how they deliver care to help keep both patients and providers safe. This is the opportunity for telehealth to ensure that people get the right care, where they need it, and when they need it. Well-designed telehealth plans can drastically improve healthcare access, quality, and outcomes, particularly for those with chronic illnesses and vulnerable groups. These tools can potentially transform the current healthcare system to be a more cost-effective and efficient one.

References:

“American Health Care: Health Spending and the Federal Budget.” Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, 30 May 2018, www.crfb.org/papers/american-health-care-health-spending-and-federal-budget.

Chi, Nai Ching, and George Demiris. “The Roles of Telehealth Tools in Supporting Family Caregivers: Current Evidence, Opportunities, and Limitations.” Journal of Gerontological Nursing, SLACK Incorporated, 30 Jan. 2017, www.healio.com/nursing/journals/jgn/2017-2-43-2/{1e33e418-a87b-406b-8c17-06f0897182b9}/the-roles-of-telehealth-tools-in-supporting-family-caregivers-current-evidence-opportunities-and-limitations.

Emma, Caitlin, and Jennifer Schlotes. “House Swiftly Passes Bipartisan $8.3B Coronavirus Package.” POLITICO, 4 Mar. 2020, www.politico.com/news/2020/03/04/house-coronavirus-funding-121065.

Gordon, Kyle. “Topic: US Smartphone Market.” Www.statista.com, 17 Oct. 2019, www.statista.com/topics/2711/us-smartphone-market/.

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Torous, John. “Innovation in Digital Health and Smartphone Applications for Mental Health.” JAMA Psychiatry, American Medical Association, 1 May 2017, jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2616170.

Wicklund, Eric. “Coronavirus Scare Gives Telehealth an Opening to Redefine Healthcare.” MHealthIntelligence, 5 Mar. 2020, mhealthintelligence.com/news/coronavirus-scare-gives-telehealth-an-opening-to-redefine-healthcare.

Zhang, Kai, et al. “Mobile Videoconferencing Apps for Telemedicine.” Telemedicine Journal and e-Health : the Official Journal of the American Telemedicine Association, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., Jan. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4739126/.

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