This article first appeared on February 16th, 2023 on the American Telemedicine Association website.
Despite the impressive advancements made by the health tech industry in recent years, access to care continues to burden populations in the United States. While care delivery across patient populations today is a complex, underlying systemic issue, there are opportunities to help reduce this gap – starting with simple technology design.
With limited care access in rural areas and other lower-resource settings, telehealth and virtual care solutions rise to the top of ways for providers to extend care reach. But virtual care solutions are not one-size-fits-all. Health technology vendors have a growing responsibility to innovate and develop solutions that are easy to use for patients across a variety of settings. An almost overwhelming number of devices exist today that allow patients to remotely transfer health data from home. So, to best maximize both their use – from a patient compliance perspective – and impact to bridge gaps in access to care, their design needs to be simple and affordable. For instance, building solutions where care can be delivered through a basic cellular connection can be an effective way to make these solutions accessible on all types of devices, regardless of the patient’s age, socioeconomic status or location – helping to enable a wider impact among the patient population.
Today’s health technology should bring expertise and care to people in remote and underserved locations and help contain infections in populations through remote delivery of diagnoses and care. Virtual care solutions should not only help healthcare providers treat the sick, but also help keep people healthy by enabling preventive care remotely, encouraging and monitoring adherence to care plans, and providing patient education. This requires a joint effort between health technology manufacturers, who design and bring these solutions to market, and hospitals and care providers to implement them in the most effective ways to support the best possible outcomes.
Telehealth provides a shift in care standards, bringing expert care to the patient rather than always requiring the patient to travel to a clinician. This is true of both telehealth care consultations (or e-visits) and remote diagnostic and monitoring technologies that share data between hospital and home. Wearable technology and mobile phone applications that are simple to use and fit into patients’ existing lifestyles can help keep those patients engaged in their care. As an example, remote ambulatory monitoring that leverages voice-enabled devices already in a patient’s home may encourage more health data to be recorded. The more comprehensive view of a patient’s health at home can then help providers deliver the right intervention at the right time, without the patient ever stepping foot in the hospital.
In the broader access-to-care model, virtual care solutions that will keep a patient engaged and compliant must be the number one concern. To achieve this, it is important to focus on three key areas of innovation:
- The design must be simple. All the widgets and fancy devices in the world won’t matter if they’re too complicated for the average user to operate. Data can’t be put to use if it isn’t properly connected and securely shared.
- The solution must be affordable. If a patient has to think “how much is this going to cost me?” every time they need to see a doctor, we are not appropriately enabling access to care. Designing solutions that only work with thousand-dollar smartphones will alienate a significant population from receiving quality care. This concept also goes beyond the cost of the device from the patient’s pocket and into the realm of health economics. Work must be done on a broader scale to understand if there is justification for payers to pay more and drive that reimbursement behavior.
- The approach must be scalable. The world of healthcare is constantly evolving, and it’s difficult to anticipate how care may be delivered differently tomorrow. Health technology companies need to offer solutions that can be adjusted to fit not only shifting care delivery demands but also emerging business and reimbursement models. By developing solutions that can improve over time via software upgrades as opposed to requiring wholly new equipment, patients, providers and payers alike will see a stronger return on investment and, hopefully, better health outcomes as well.As the digital transformation of healthcare marches on, it is important that no one gets left behind. Half the world’s population still lacks access to the health services they need . By bridging physical distances, sharing data remotely, and analyzing data intelligently to offer clinical decision support, health technology companies embracing digital transformation can help bring care where it’s needed most.
As the digital transformation of healthcare marches on, it is important that no one gets left behind. Half the world’s population still lacks access to the health services they need . By bridging physical distances, sharing data remotely, and analyzing data intelligently to offer clinical decision support, health technology companies embracing digital transformation can help bring care where it’s needed most.