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Why telemedicine is a game changer in 2020 and beyond

It is likely that for the duration of the pandemic (or at least the worst of it), patients and doctors will meet remotely whenever possible

Josh Weston
|Aug 1|magazine14 min read

Telemedicine was on the rise before 2020. There are certain ways in which technology has simply made it easier for medical professionals to provide various types of remote care, helping to maximize convenience and efficiency where certain practices are concerned. In some cases, telemedicine can help cut down on costs as well. Even if this trend was already becoming apparent though, it’s clear that 2020 has accelerated it.

In the middle of April, as the full scope of the coronavirus outbreak was beginning to become apparent, we saw a near-instantaneous spike in telemedicine. Teladoc, for instance — a company that is built to provide remote care — reported a doubling of remote doctor visits to 20,000 a day. This was just one example, but it demonstrated just how much the pandemic changed the medical industry right off the bat.

Since April, there has continued to be more of a focus on telemedicine, and it is likely that for the duration of the pandemic (or at least the worst of it), patients and doctors will meet remotely whenever possible. At the same time however, there are reasons to believe that telemedicine is also a game changer for the future. Various trends and technologies appear to be setting the stage for a transformation of medical industries that may be sped up by the pandemic, but which are poised to last into the near future as well.

Emergence of Medical Deliveries

When you consider the term “telemedicine,” it’s likely that the first thing you think of is a simple video chat between a doctor and patient — or even a patient logging into an online program to view notes from a physician. These certainly qualify as aspects of telemedicine, but they don’t completely define the idea. Other forms of remote care are involved as well, and one that we’re beginning to see more of is the efficient delivery of medications directly to patients.

The idea here is simple: Patients who have been prescribed medications can take advantage of these services to quickly obtain said medications without having to leave home. They still need to apply insurance and cover any necessary copays, but the actual process is made far more convenient — and possibly more reliable as well.

Clearly, this is particularly appealing in the midst of a pandemic. Many aren’t keen to visit pharmacies if they don’t absolutely need to, and some would even rather avoid drive-thru pharmacies, where they are options. The idea of having meds delivered to the home, on the other hand, is essentially risk-free. Still, as long as this model continues to work, it’s an excellent example of a shift toward telemedicine that is likely to outlast the pandemic. Convenience and efficiency always appeal, and now that people are experiencing improvements in these areas with respect to medical prescriptions, it’s hard to imagine them going back to how things were.

Better Tech for Biomedical Tracking

Some aspects of telemedicine are looking promising quite literally because they’re only now being made possible by new technology. Primarily, this refers to some of the wearable and implanted devices that are now being deployed so that various patient conditions can be monitored remotely. Such devices are coming about largely thanks to a combination of superior electronic design and new-age manufacturing methods.

On the electronics front, the simple fact is that the design of printed circuit boards, or PCBs, has become vastly more sophisticated. While it has long been possible for engineers to piece together highly capable PCBs to power all different kinds of electronics, design processes and abilities have changed for the better. Regarding how new PCBs are coming about, modern software now allows for engineers to upload and share PCB designs, so much so that they can collaborate more easily. This leads to a more open process by which ideas can be combined, and progress built upon, resulting in more innovative and ingenious end products. Most notably with regard to medical implants and wearables, these improved process have helped lead to more PCBs that are built to fit small devices and withstand unorthodox conditions, yet which still have the power to perform functions and establish remote connections.

As for manufacturing, there are various modern methods that allow for quick prototyping and rapid innovation in the development of new devices that are both safe and capable as implants or wearables. Most exciting on this front is the use of 3D printing to create medical implants, which is becoming a more widespread practice. However, there are also other machine-driven, tech-based manufacturing methods as well that are helping to produce increasingly sophisticated products. These products can house the advanced electronics we just discussed, and perform as needed either within patients’ bodies or attached to them.

All of this together results in easier patient tracking, which is helping to make some in-person appointments less necessary. Moving forward, this should allow doctors and medical centers to monitor conditions and possibly even form diagnostic opinions from afar.

Progress With Regulation & Data Sharing

This point may not be quite as exciting at first as medicine by delivery or implanted health monitors. However, it may ultimately be one of the most important aspects of establishing a more reliable telemedicine infrastructure. Essentially, healthcare industries and governments have to work together to shift regulations in order to enable better data sharing without sacrificing patient privacy.

This is easier said than done, and it’s an intricate process. However, one article on some of the ways in which the Covid outbreak can change medicine noted that Asia has already had some success when it comes to making these kinds of regulatory changes. Some Asian countries in fact were able to more effectively combat the pandemic thanks in large part to changes in how healthcare data is shared.

Even moving forward, however, more robust data-sharing capabilities will likely help to expand telemedicine. With patients recording information remotely, doctors and healthcare facilities will be handling more data than ever, and in order to make sense of it all, it will need to be readily available — and possibly subject to automated analysis. This could ultimately lead to a more intelligent system with regard to diagnostics and treatment recommendations. But it will depend on some potential regulatory changes that the pandemic itself is forcing us to confront.

Conclusion

The Covid-19 outbreak has abruptly changed society in countless ways, and the medical world has not escaped change. Through these examples however, we can see that some of the adjustments that have come about — and specifically the movement toward telemedicine — could actually have positive long-term implications.

By Josh Weston, Wise Marketing 

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