Telehealth – ready to transform healthcare as we know it?

It's been long to emerge, but telehealth is now poised to make a serious impact on healthcare as we know it.
13 July 2020

The adoption of telehealth solutions are expanding rapidly. Source: Shutterstock

  • Telehealth solutions have been widely adopted by medical institutions globally amid the pandemic
  • The digital health market is estimated to hit US$505.4 billion by 2025
  • Medical professionals more than ever recognize the benefits telehealth solutions can bring

The digital health market is projected to hit US$505.4 billion by 2025, a monumental increase from US$86.4 billion in 2018, as members of the healthcare industry seek cutting-edge solutions that can ultimately enhance the work it does. 

Whether it’s pushing RPA-led backend automation to unburden staff from admin-heavy tasks, or using VR to train surgeons without the need for travel, the technology is driving healthcare by the day and, much like in other industries, the coronavirus outbreak is serving as a further spotlight to the transformational potential of digital tools, solutions and innovations in the sector. 

While it has been long to emerge, telehealth is now poised to make a serious and positive impact on healthcare as we know it. It can relieve an overburdened industry and enable patients to receive consultations, wherever they are without leaving their home. Of course, in light of the social distancing measures in place and the need to reduce footfall to high-risk healthcare facilities, telehealth has been a natural solution.

In a webinarAround the Corner: The Future Of Telehealth After COVID-19Jay Parkinson, CEO and founder of Sherpaa, shared the impact of the pandemic has seen growing confidence in telehealth. 

“What’s interesting about technology in healthcare is it’s not really a tech problem, It’s really a behavior and culture problem.” Parkinson continued, “so if you have the technology in place that can support new behaviors and new sort of cultural definitions, it’s not hard to transition quickly.”

In a similar vein, Saurabha Bhatnagar, MD, chief medical officer at UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, remarked on the pandemic’s catalytic role in pushing the widespread adoption and consolidation of telehealth. Bhatnagar shared that the IT infrastructure was “primed and ready” and the ongoing pandemic has pushed “many patients to try it [telehealth] for the first time, gain a comfort level, and be delighted with the experience.”

Essentially, Bhatnagar added, “the relaxation of telehealth regulatory restrictions further allowed utilization.”

Upon entering the mainstream market, telehealth solutions are only headed for wider adoption and expansion as medical professionals are increasingly acknowledging the necessity of digital healthcare services, having faced pressure to explore them in recent months. 

Bhatnagar said that “education on telehealth will be key” for patients to recognize and make the best judgment when virtual or in-person visits and appointments are suitable. 

“Just as a patient newly diagnosed with congestive heart failure won’t know at first when to see their primary care doctor vs. their cardiologist, there will be a learning curve to knowing when to come in face-to-face vs check-in virtually,” he said. 

Another factor contributing to the accelerated adoption of telehealth is the rising number of mobile devices, tablets and connected devices in patients’ homes. Virtual visits become more accessible as the rising number of connected devices in homes can facilitate “more remote monitoring” and that could see telehealth “become a first line of evaluation for some conditions.”

By implementing telehealth solutions, clinical teams, and health professionals worldwide can manage patient care more efficiently and deliver improved outcomes. Most importantly, telehealth solutions present innovative means to offer essential medical advice and services while adhering to the new norms of social distancing. 

However, taking consultations online brings new challenges, not least of which is the issue of cybersecurity.

The healthcare sector remains the most-targeted industry in terms of cyber attacks. A third of all data breaches happen in hospitals, and the number of breached personal records in the healthcare industry nearly tripled from 2018 to 2019, jumping from ​15 million to 40 million​. Patients’ personal data is a valuable commodity to cybercriminals. 

A report by Deloitte highlighted that, if not managed correctly, telemedicine risks adding to the attack surface of the healthcare industry, risking security, privacy and compliance with issues such as tech failures, lack of informed consent, complex identity management and unpatched consumer software. 

In June this year, Babylon Health – an app which connects patients to GPs for telehealth appointments – was found to have suffered a significant data breach, after one user discovered they had been given video access to dozens of video recordings of other patients’ consultations. A follow up check found that a “small number” of its total 2.3 million users could also see other patients’ recorded sessions, and the issue was quickly addressed.