The world changed with the COVID-19 pandemic—and so did healthcare. To prevent further spread of the virus, providers were suddenly challenged to find a new way to see and treat their patients.
Telehealth has enhanced the ability of healthcare providers to care for an increased volume of patients without being there in person. And now that it has proven its value, it is here to stay. While many providers were introduced to telehealth through simple videoconferencing, the next generation of telemedicine technology will have much more to offer. Clinicians will use natural language processing to automatically take notes during a visit. Specialists will weigh in from afar during emergency procedures. And patients everywhere will benefit from a high level of care, no matter where they are.
Benefits of Telemedicine
Telemedicine is enabling a new standard of care by keeping patients better connected with their providers, improving access to clinicians and specialists, and allowing both patients and providers to avoid high-risk environments.
Improved Access to Care
Telemedicine provides greater reach to rural and underserved communities, making it more convenient for them to make and keep appointments. People with limited mobility or those who cannot drive can more easily get the care they need. Rural health centers can connect patients to in-demand specialists, such as neurologists.
High Quality of Care
Telemedicine technology enables frequent patient monitoring and data collection. This can encourage better self-care practices and inform diagnoses. Telemedicine systems that integrate AI can automatically analyze patient data and help providers respond quickly to new developments.
Using telemedicine technology, providers may be able to serve more patients. Exam rooms don’t have to be cleaned between appointments. Visits can be shorter, and clinics can be smaller. Access to tele–urgent care can reduce emergency department visits. Integration with electronic health records (EHRs) enables providers to quickly compare test results, review patient history, and make thorough assessments without flipping through paper records. Travel costs for in-demand healthcare specialists and patients can also be reduced.
Safe Environment for Patients and Providers
Telehealth and telemedicine promote a healthier environment for everyone. Patients sick with the flu or a cold can speak with their doctor without bringing germs into the office. Immunocompromised patients can conduct routine checkups without traveling. Providers are better protected against infectious diseases while delivering guidance and monitoring patient progress.
Telemedicine Security and Privacy
Before they can unlock the full benefits of telemedicine technology, providers must ensure they have a secure platform for sharing personal health information (PHI). Data security is top of mind in healthcare environments, where HIPAA and other privacy regulations demand that sensitive PHI is protected. Healthcare organizations are a major target for cybercriminals because their networks contain so much valuable data.
This calls for an end-to-end approach that includes strong network security features and controlled access rights management. Data protection technologies such as encryption can help protect patient information that is transmitted over telemedicine IoT devices and other endpoints. A HIPAA-compliant telehealth strategy might involve keeping data on an edge server as well as sending it to the cloud.
IoT and AI in Telemedicine
In the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), ultrafast connectivity means a diverse range of medical devices and equipment can be connected to a server or the cloud. As a result, telemedicine technology can make use of real-time data to enable higher-quality remote healthcare. Patients can use wearables and other medical devices at home to check their blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate and transmit results for analysis by their doctor. Providers can input patient notes, write prescriptions, and add other data that pharmacists and specialists can readily access at their own locations.
Integrated wearables track patient vitals throughout the day and transmit data to the cloud for easy, ongoing evaluation—both by the patients themselves and by care providers. This level of monitoring can help patients with chronic conditions better manage their own health and may even help prevent urgent care and emergency department visits. When patients feel unwell or have questions, they can schedule a telemedicine appointment; a provider can access the ongoing readings to give advice.
Self-service kiosks in a variety of locations—in a clinical setting, at a pharmacy, or in a public place—offer another way for patients to connect with providers. Kiosks can also let patients book appointments and pay bills.
Emergency responders can use telemedicine devices to take EEG, EKG, and other readings and send them to hospital staff while en route. Specialists can advise on immediate treatment, and staff can better prepare for the patient’s arrival. The ability to respond immediately to emergencies can be lifesaving, particularly in the case of heart attack or stroke.
AI is also bringing new capabilities to telemedicine. For example, AI can provide prompts that make it easier to take a patient’s history during a telemedicine visit, dynamically adjusting questions based on responses.1 AI algorithms can also help with diagnostics, especially for conditions such as melanoma.1 Other AI-based tools can offer personalized reminders for medication and recommend routine condition checks based on personal monitoring data.1
Telemedicine technology enables frequent patient engagement and monitoring with regular data collection. Providers can respond quickly to new information and encourage patient self-care.
Remote Patient Monitoring and Consultation
Today, patients can transmit biometric data from wearables or remote monitoring devices, such as pulsometers or blood pressure cuffs, to their providers. Providers can access patient information via a dashboard or clinical decision support system that compiles the data and lets them see patient status in near-real time. Telemedicine and other forms of telehealth monitoring can help patients and their providers work together to manage chronic health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and asthma. Providers can also monitor patients at home after a hospital stay or when recovering from an injury.
The next generation of AI capabilities will make it possible to integrate even more health data into these systems, helping detect patterns pointing to potential issues. For example, systems can help track daily blood pressure and glucose levels. Taking a patient’s temperature on a regular basis as they recover at home after surgery allows doctors to act quickly in case of infection. All of these capabilities are especially beneficial to patients living in rural settings, where in-person follow-up visits would require significant travel.
Robotics in healthcare can assist in remote patient monitoring and allow specialists to consult on cases in rural hospitals. For example, autonomous telehealth robots can navigate to patients in exam or hospital rooms, allowing clinicians to interact with patients from afar. A patient in acute care can communicate with a nurse from their bedside while the nurse attends to other patients and tasks. Some robots can follow doctors as they make rounds, sharing live feeds with remote specialists, who can contribute on-screen consultation. In rural hospitals, physicians and specialists can check in from far away. In other cases, doctors cover the night shift for rural hospitals from different time zones. Most self-driven telehealth robots keep track of their own batteries and make their way back to charging stations when necessary, allowing health workers to focus on other tasks.
Other robots enable surgeons to assist with operations remotely, seeing the same view as the surgeon performing the procedure.
Intel® Technologies for Telemedicine
To deploy a successful telemedicine architecture, providers and healthcare systems should have a plan to address each of the following considerations:
- Adoption of robust security and privacy policies, including those to meet HIPAA compliance
- Integration with EHR software
- Implementation of a flexible, secure IT infrastructure, including resilient networking capabilities
- Interoperability between devices and software solutions
- Straightforward patient and provider interfaces, including a user-friendly customer service portal
- Clinical validation, planning, and workflow solutions
Intel works with a diverse ecosystem of hardware manufacturers and software providers to support telemedicine systems that meet these requirements. From connected wearables to edge servers in the clinic, Intel® technologies are helping build a scalable architecture across the entire medical technology ecosystem.
Telemedicine and Telehealth Success Stories
One telehealth solution powered by Intel® technology is the Medical Informatics Corp. (MIC) Sickbay platform. This FDA-cleared software platform collects patient data across ICU equipment and vendors to enable remote patient monitoring. As a result, health systems may be able to rapidly expand ICU capacity while helping reduce exposure to pathogens. In addition, providers can access comprehensive patient data from any PC, tablet, or phone to monitor up to 100 patients across facilities. Houston Methodist Hospital expanded its use of the Sickbay platform to prepare ICUs as part of the hospital’s response to COVID-19.
Another partner solution from InTouch Health uses Intel® technology to deliver a global cloud platform for virtual care. The platform supports a range of devices and managed services that make virtual care easy and scalable.
The Future of Telemedicine Technology
During the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine technology became a critical defense against the virus. But it has also proven its ability to improve care delivery overall. Telemedicine connects remote specialists for emergency assistance, enables health workers to avoid exposure to pathogens, and provides continuity of care for patients with chronic illnesses. Providers, health administrators, and patients alike have realized the convenience, level of quality, and innovation that telemedicine technology can bring to the way healthcare is delivered.
Telemedicine allows health teams to streamline routine checkups and ongoing patient monitoring and commit more face-to-face attention where it is most needed. As telemedicine technology evolves, advancements in AI and edge computing will enable greater use of real-time analytics to make diagnoses, respond quickly to emergencies, and share information. Working alongside hardware and software developers within the health ecosystem, Intel supports telemedicine technology that will scale to meet a broader range of healthcare needs.