The global healthcare industry is a huge sphere reportedly worth about $8.45 trillion in 2018. For such a big sector, it is expected that there exists a driving force that keeps services consistently reliable and accessible. Globally, the recent advances observed in the healthcare industry are mediated by technology.
Merging technological innovations with modern medicine has produced a brand of global healthcare never before seen in the world. Ranging from creating patient-friendly software to creating a storage cloud for patients’ medical records, technology has helped reshaped modern medicine in the best ways possible.
Telehealth is a popular term in the medical world today. The World Health Organization (WHO) described Telehealth as the ‘delivery of healthcare services, where patients and providers are separated by distance, by using ICT for the exchange of information for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and injuries, research evaluation and for the continuing education of health professionals.
Telehealth primarily describes the spectrum of practices involving the use of Information and Communication Technologies in the remote delivery of healthcare services. In all regions of the world where it is implemented, telehealth is aimed at reducing the need for a direct hospital visit, a patient-doctor physical consultation session, and at the same time, improves patient’s access to medical care through the internet.
Online doctor services like WebDoctors use telehealth protocols to organize a virtual consultation session, clerk a patient, and conduct an expert diagnosis. Telehealth also allows online doctors to order clinical tests online, issue an online prescription, and monitor therapy progress. In its full implementation, telehealth takes away the stress of accessing medical care and rebrands healthcare as a personalized, patient-centered service.
Telehealth and advances in healthcare facilities globally
Telehealth has not just only improved the patients’ reach to quality medical care remotely; it has also positively affected healthcare professionals and healthcare facilities. Strategic integration of telehealth into the existing structure of healthcare services delivery has prompted a need to restructure how patients access medical care.
The restructuring ensured that the needs of patients are considered and adequately represented. In a bid to meet the growing need for medical care with telehealth, healthcare facilities around the world have invested in innovations that help patients get adequate care in the comfort of their homes.
In a 2016 publication on Global Health Observatory (GHO) data, the WHO recognized different distribution of telehealth initiatives by WHO member countries. The initiatives capture in this publication includes teleradiology, telepathology, teledermatology, telepsychiatry, and remote patient monitoring. In essence, the implementation of these initiatives drives multiple advances in healthcare facilities providing telehealth services. Medical services bordering on these initiatives might require a new installation, infrastructural development, and specialized hardware tools for a unique user (patient) experience.
Hardware installations in healthcare facilities offering telehealth services might involve a digital storage cloud solution or specialized devices improving communication technology. For these healthcare facilities, the online doctor services rendered are in-house. Healthcare professionals are expected to get access to a reliable internet connection and a compatible audio-visual network set up. The selected setup might depend on the facility’s preferences; however, regardless of which one is selected, telehealth infrastructures connect the doctor with the patients over a distance.
Healthcare faculties may also adopt innovative technologies that make it easy to perform the processes involved in the telehealth initiatives as identified by WHO. Tele-pathology may require the installation of innovative technologies that allow the doctor to make an expert diagnosis remotely. Tele-psychiatry may also require the facility to install new technologies that helps the doctor manage a case of substance remotely while also offering a user-friendly interface for remote therapy monitoring.
In telehealth, wearable devices help doctor to monitor a patient’s health and vitals without necessarily scheduling a physical appointment. Patients managed remotely with wearable digital devices may need to automatically relay health data to the healthcare facility. A digital interface linked to a customized storage cloud might be needed at the receiving end of data transmission. These installations better equip the healthcare professionals to compare patient’s health data in real-time while modifying the existing therapy plan, if necessary.
According to the WHO, more than 50% of the member countries who have implemented the telehealth policy as proposed have also developed a specific national telehealth policy in their health sector. Approximately 75% of these countries currently have a teleradiology program, with about half reporting a telepathology program, a teledermatology program, and a remote patient monitoring program. In essence, telehealth is continuously rebranding the mode of healthcare delivery in these countries while also championing advances in their healthcare facilities.
Barriers to telehealth as a system of healthcare delivery
Barriers currently identified with the global telehealth initiatives borders heavily on reliable data transmission between the patient and the healthcare professional. Lack of the necessary infrastructures required for easy data transmission defeats the primary objective of remote healthcare delivery. In the same vein, the lack of infrastructures and installation needed for data processing and storage has been identified as another barrier to telehealth.
Third world countries with an exploding population and a rapidly increasing aged population, adequate funding is needed to initiate telehealth for the citizenry. Inadequate funding delays infrastructural development in the health sector and adversely affect remote healthcare. In many countries, the lack of legislation or regulations offering legal coverage for telehealth. Supportive regulations are needed for the implementation of telehealth services and provide legal insurance coverage for patients managed on this program.
Solving the problems introduced by these barriers is expected to not only improve the reach of remote healthcare but also rebrand the global healthcare industry. The global telehealth market is estimated to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 23.4% during the forecast period, reaching $266.8 billion by 2026. The projected growth is expected to be fueled by increased demand for quality medical care, advancement in telecommunication technologies, increased patient awareness, and wide governmental support. A projected expansion of the telehealth sector is also expected to increase humanity’s chances of improving global healthcare indices.