In this interview, Chun-Kai Chang , the Business Development Manager of Telehealth at Advantech, talks to News-Medical about the acceleration behind telehealth services.
To begin, can you give us a brief introduction into telehealth and what it involves?
Telehealth is a method of providing medical care remotely, usually through video chat. Telehealth makes it possible to connect patients and clinicians from any location. It provides access to a wide range of care, including primary care consultations, psychotherapy, physical therapy, and even emergency services, by allowing primary care clinicians and specialists to further their reach and treating patients wherever there is an internet connection.
The benefits of telehealth for healthcare providers and patients is that these services can be faster, safer, more effective, and less expensive in the long run, especially during a time like the COVID-19 pandemic, where telehealth has allowed access to medical care without going to hospitals to protect patients and hospital staff from being exposed to the infection.
What are some of the main drivers behind the acceleration and momentum of telehealth services?
There are two major drivers for this fast-growing market. The first and most recent driver for telehealth has been the global COVID-19 pandemic. Strong social distancing and minimal physical contact precautions have pushed the shift to telehealth and remote consultations as it aids in infection protection.
These precautions and increased hospital bed shortages have forced medical facilities to incorporate more telehealth technologies to keep up with demand and maintain care continuity for patients at home.
The second driver is the shortage of medical professionals when demand is increasing every year due to an aging population and more and more patients with chronic and non-communicable diseases. For people living in rural areas, their medical demands are underserved due to insufficient resources and long distances to drive into cities for care. With this surmounting pressure, healthcare providers have started to embrace digital technology to enhance care delivery efficiency. Telehealth is one of the promising ways to tackle the challenge of doctor shortages and expand specialists and doctors' reach to patients.
In terms of this acceleration and momentum of telehealth services, we are currently seeing, what are some items we can expect to see/see more of in the future?
Telehealth will not replace face-to-face care services, but we will incorporate it into healthcare facilities' infrastructure. Patients will be selecting providers based on their accessibility to telehealth services. With more access to doctors, increasing patients using preventative care services and follow-up care due to convenience will start to emerge. These can lead to fewer readmissions and patient complications. We will also see more use for early screening of patient triage in the field before they arrive at hospitals.
When it comes to remote patient monitoring for clinicians, what impact does telehealth have on this?
Remote patient monitoring could be one of the applications of telehealth. Remote patient monitoring usually involves continuously collecting patient's health data through wearable devices, such as vital signs and blood sugars. The patient's data is then transmitted in real-time, monitored, and reviewed by medical providers.
In this way, medical providers could acquire a whole picture of a patient's health condition and give a more precise diagnosis. The expansion of telehealth further highlights the role of remote patient monitoring because clinicians need the full picture. Also, remote patient monitoring could improve patient engagement, which means healthcare providers/clinicians can act as a coach, and interact with patients to improve their health outcomes.
How has telehealth shaped the way clinicians work with each other?
Clinician-to-clinician telehealth services have enabled medical professionals to collaborate virtually with specialists in other locations to deliver treatment and care to patients jointly. This service can range from remote surgical mentoring to Tele-ICU and Tele-ER (like a stroke), in which on-site staff work together with remote physician/specialist team to assess patient's condition. Telehealth solutions relieve the pressure of staffing gaps seen in critical departments such as emergency room and ICU.
What would you say are some of the biggest challenges clinicians currently face with telehealth?
Many hospitals are still facing the lack of infrastructure to implement telehealth successfully, insufficient hardware, and the right technology for each specialty. Some hospitals struggle with reliable networking infrastructures like broadband, 4G, or Wi-Fi. This could limit the connectivity within facilities and provide remote care to rural areas or mobile clinics. Having the right technology and tools, and place will be critical to successful telehealth programs.
Even though this new technology is quickly being integrated, there is a learning curve to using telehealth versus traditional healthcare operations. Users face obstacles such as learning to use different tools, online scheduling for virtual visits, triage procedures, and billing policies.
To overcome these challenges, telehealth should be encouraged as a regular service and included in health insurance. There would be more motives for healthcare providers to invest in infrastructures and information system integration and deploy telehealth technology. Also, telehealth solutions that are more intuitive and easier to use could lower the learning barrier, so medical professionals and patients would be more willing to adopt the new technology and service model.
Can you tell us about Advantech's telehealth solution, the AMiS-72, and some examples of real use cases?
Advantech's AMiS-72 cart is a total telehealth mobile workstation equipped with a video conferencing system and digital exam scopes, ultrasound, electronic stethoscope, and consultation software.
In the U.S., Banner Health is tackling physician shortages in the ICU with our telehealth cart solution. They implemented our cart in the ICU by the patient's bedside so nurses can speak with a remote physician team to give a joint treatment plan for patients. In this case, the telehealth solution's benefit is that it helped increased efficiency and, more importantly, made the clinician more accessible to patients.
We currently have a medical center in Taiwan that implemented our telehealth solution in a rural area where there are not many options for healthcare providers. In this area, most elderly patients have diabetes and have to travel long distances for regular examinations at the medical center in an urban area, which can be very time-consuming and exhausting.
With our solution deployed in rural health centers, patients can easily access specialists to have examinations and receive treatment recommendations by visiting a nearby health center. There is another sizeable medical corporation named HMC in Qatar, which operates nine hospitals in Qatar. According to HMC, they receive 1,600 stroke patients every year. Unfortunately, the number of specialty doctors available is insufficient to support each hospital to give an immediate assessment for stroke patients because there are too many patients waiting in the emergency room.
A solution to their doctor shortage was to place telehealth carts into the emergency room in each hospital. The carts are connected to a centralized remote stroke team for patient assessment and give a treatment plan. In this way, HMC increased the efficiency of handling stroke patients without hiring more medical professionals.
Founded in 1983, Advantech is a world-leader in providing trusted, innovative embedded and automation products and solutions. Advantech has become a leading player in the global healthcare market with over a decade of proven experience. Advantech's iHealthcare Division offers solutions for point-of-care computing, integrated operating rooms, intelligent wards, closed-loop medication administration, and telehealth applications.
For more information, visit http://www.advantech.com
About Chun-Kai Chang
Chun-Kai Chang is the Business Development Manager of Telehealth at Advantech. He was a Clinical Laboratory Scientist at National Taiwan University Hospital. With over five years in the medical industry, he became an industry analyst at a well-known consulting institute in Taiwan. His research focused on global trends of digital healthcare and telehealth development.