Telemedicine in Times of the Coronavirus

April 8, 2020

 

 

The Coronavirus has moved the future forward in many technology markets, from manufacturing to retail to healthcare. We are witnessing a seismic shift in the healthcare sector across the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has become a forcing function that has exposed severe shortcomings in healthcare systems in many countries. Overwhelmed healthcare systems are being challenged to implement changes and employ new technologies that were resisted or ignored before.

 

Primary care has long held the promise that issues like access and quality care could be delivered digitally, but the scale of actual digital adoption has been slow. Now we are seeing this happen in real-time and at a pace that just a few months back was hard to imagine. In England for example, primary care at scale has now finally started to embrace telehealth and has deployed a new “digital first” pathway as a route to managing streaming of care to the appropriate place. In the US, Medicare is now reimbursing telemedicine visits, and many commercial insurers are covering visits at the same rates for an in-person visit.

 

Spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has introduced transformative rules that will give patients unprecedented access to their health data. The rules will allow people for the first time to use apps of their choice to retrieve data like test results, as well as claims information directly from their health providers and insurers. With improved access to medical records, patients can more easily avoid repeat tests and archaic tasks like picking up paper or DVD copies of their files from health providers, which permits avoiding facilities where COVID-19 patients are being treated. Putting patients in charge of their health records is a key piece of giving patients more control in their healthcare but this also empowers doctors by providing them with a more complete and easily accessible clinical picture of each patient.

 

Diabetes is a chronic disease where self-care is of the utmost importance. Digital health can be instrumental in supporting successful diabetes management. People with type 1 diabetes are trained from an early age to take care of insulin injections, monitoring of their blood sugar level, etc. Smartphone-based digital health technologies are expected to transform the diabetes management market by substantially improving diabetes outcomes and reducing healthcare costs. These technologies are engaging and empowering patients, improving glycemic control, and lowering complications.

 

The RetinaRisk app is one of these technologies that can make a tremendous contribution towards eliminating diabetic retinopathy, one of the leading cause of blindness in the working age population around the globe. The RetinaRisk app empowers people living with diabetes to assess their individualized risk of developing sight-threatening in the next 12 months based on their clinical risk profile. Its easy-to-visualize “speedometer” displays the individualized risk of each patient in green, amber and red and vividly demonstrates how improvement of the modifiable risk factors, namely blood glucose (HbA1c) and blood pressure, could significantly lower the user´s risk of potentially blinding diabetic eye disease and expensive interventions. The app also includes guidelines and useful information on diabetes, diabetic retinopathy and improved self-care, which allows patients to better understand their condition and become an active participant in their own wellness journey.

 

The post-COVID world is likely to be remembered as the time when the provision of primary care or the management of non-communicable diseases shifted to digital modalities as the default rather than the exception. This new age  of telemedicine is also likely to enable all the other technologies we have been celebrating, like insights associated with AI, and the potential that 5G gives us in terms of the “Internet of Things” to converge in a multitude of ways.  This would have been unimaginable only a few weeks ago.

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