2021 – The Acceleration and Transformation of Telemedicine

Tony Marven is the CTO at MD Consents, MD ConsentsTony Marven is the CTO at MD Consents
The Covid-19 pandemic affected all healthcare providers. Some had to reduce their services and others unfortunately had to temporarily close.

The fortunate few that were able to quickly adapt had either started to incorporate telemedicine or were able to quickly pivot to available tools and services. Almost a year down the line, one thing is clear – patients and clinics alike have readily adopted these new ways of working, and they are here to stay.

Acceleration – the demand for telemedicine is growing

The pandemic has proven that the healthcare industry can adapt and innovate. Many of the roadblocks that prevented the move to telemedicine in the past were put aside for patient safety.

Patient registration, completion and signing of forms, consultations and follow-ups via video or phone are now all available from home.

There has been a boom in home test kits for blood, semen, and of course Covid-19, and greater interest in mobile medical devices for scanning, analysing and communicating results. However, quality and the accuracy of these new solutions is still a concern, as is data security.

The efficiency benefits for patients and healthcare providers are significant. Patients no longer have to schedule limited appointments, travel to the clinic or wait around. For healthcare providers, nearly everything can be done remotely apart from physical examinations and medical procedures. Providers should look to continue with this process in 2021 as the pandemic continues, and beyond.

Transformation – making all the pieces work together securely

If the telemedicine trend is to continue then interoperability issues will have to be resolved. Healthcare platforms are notorious for their lack of interoperability, partly due to legacy technologies and the concern for data security.

For providers and users of enterprise solutions there are more integration options, but they are not ‘plug and play’. Interfaces need to be developed and maintained, with governance over patient data the over-riding concern.
Smaller healthcare organisations with tight budgets and fewer resources need a single solution that can work for patients and staff, without any additional investment in internal IT staff or hardware.

The move to the cloud in healthcare continues to be slow, not just because of security concerns but the cost of change from existing, sometimes monolithic, medical records systems.

For telemedicine to work for all healthcare organisations the focus should be on security, interoperability and ease of use.

Telemedicine – the challenge of making it accessible for all

Accessibility can be an issue as not all patients have access to a computer and some have impairments that make standard web-based software difficult to use.

Language is another issue. How can you be sure a person whose first language isn’t English has fully understood the medical options provided, the explanations of risks or any financial commitments?

Lastly, our ageing population, even those who have used computers for a considerable length of time can struggle to fill out forms, accurately enter data and keep up with the new navigation systems that magically appear overnight.

This all needs to be considered when adopting solutions for patient use.

The future of telemedicine

There continue to be developments in the world of telemedicine. We will see more integrated cloud-based platforms emerge with databases and data warehouses designed to the very highest security standards.

These must be able to scale and the same level of security should be available regardless of the size of the organisation using it.

Staff working remotely will put additional security and support pressures on internal IT systems. Organisations that have made the move to telemedicine during lockdown should not consider their work done; security threats are forever evolving and compliance and data security should be frequently assessed and monitored.

Integrating easily and securely without custom coding is the goal. With standard data definitions and the use of modern protocols like XML and JSON data messages can be securely exchanged over public APIs.

Who knows what challenges 2021 will bring to the world of telemedicine - one thing is certain, there is no turning back. The lessons learnt and benefits realised from telemedicine during the last year will have a lasting impact on healthcare’s view of these technologies. I’m looking forward to a bright future where healthcare providers realise what we knew all along – that telemedicine is the future of healthcare.

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