The state of the telemedicine industry Part II
After detailing the large strides made in the industry, contributor JT Ripton discusses new trends such as wearables and WebRTC in part two.
Wearables and Consumables Are On the Rise
In the past few years, wearable technology like the FitBit, which monitors a few key health metrics, has mainly been a consumer driven market. In 2016, wearables and consumables will start to really break into the healthcare industry.
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With health products like the HealthPatch MD, a reusable biosensor with ECG electrodes that are embedded into a disposable patch that is able to monitor a patient’s vital signs, keep track of breathing, monitor heart rate, check temperature, and look at other vitals, it is easy to then relay that information to health care physicians in-order to keep tabs on their patients.
They can even tell if a patient has fallen with an accelerometer.
Another example, in this case is a consumable pill called Helius by Proteus Digital, that is able to track vital internal health information from within the patient in real time and is able to communicate that information to the Helius companion app which your doctor can assess.
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The Helius will also be able to tell doctors if a patient is taking their prescriptions at the correct time and alert them if they’re having any adverse reactions to their medications or therapies.
With the technological abilities of wearables rapidly getting more advanced and common-place, wearables will only gain in popularity and in some cases necessity throughout 2016 and for years after.
Proprietary Tele-Health Components Become Obsolete
Expensive proprietary unified communications systems, which were the norm only on a few years ago, are outdated, expensive, and complicated.
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With emerging telecommunication standards like WebRTC, which integrate easily into mobile apps and mobile sites, a healthcare provider now has the flexibility to use the device of his or her choice, whether that’s a PC, smartphones, or tablets in order to visually communicate with patients.
Healthcare providers are also now seeking out specialty-specific telehealth software or apps that are used across all of these devices using open networks. As less expensive and more intuitive telehealth options arise, the reliance on proprietary unified communication tools is in sharp decline.
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These trends will drive down the price of cloud-based communication methods and democratize telemedicine for those all over the world. As telemedicine technology advances and becomes easier to integrate and use, healthcare will become more accessible and more affordable in 2016 and beyond.
Getting ready for cloud data-driven healthcare
As healthcare continues to recognise the value of data and digital transformation, many organisations are relying on the cloud to make their future-forward and data-centric thinking a reality. In fact, the global healthcare cloud computing market was valued at approximately $18 billion and is expected to generate around $61 billion USD by 2025.
At the forefront of these changes is the rapid adoption of cloud-based, or software-as-a-service (SaaS), applications. These apps can be used to handle patient interactions, track prescriptions, care, billing and more, and the insights derived from this important data can vastly improve operations, procurement and courses of treatment. However, before healthcare organisations can begin to dream about a true data-driven future, they have to deal with a data-driven dilemma: compliance.
Meeting regulation requirements
It’s no secret that healthcare is a highly regulated industry when it comes to data and privacy – and rightfully so. Patient records contain extremely sensitive data that, if changed or erased, could cost someone their life. This is why healthcare systems rely on legacy technologies, like Cerner and Epic EHRs, to manage patient information – the industry knows the vendors put an emphasis on making them as secure as possible.
Yet when SaaS applications are introduced and data starts being moved into them, compliance gets complicated. For example, every time a new application is introduced into an organisation, that organisation must have the vendor complete a BAA (Business Associate Agreement). This agreement essentially puts the responsibility for the safety of patients’ information — maintaining appropriate safeguards and complying with regulations — on the vendor.
However, even with these agreements in place, healthcare systems still are at risk of failing to meet compliance requirements. To comply with HIPAA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration 21 CFR Part 11 and other regulations that stipulate the need to exercise best practices to keep electronic patient data safe, healthcare organisations must maintain comprehensive audit trails – something that gets increasingly difficult when data sits in an application that resides in the vendor’s infrastructure.
Additionally, data often does not stay in the applications – instead healthcare users download, save and copy it into other business intelligence tools, creating data sprawl across the organisation and exposing patient privacy to greater risk.
With so many of these tools that are meant to spur growth and more effective care creating compliance challenges, it begs the question: how can healthcare organisations take advantage of the data they have without risking non-compliance?
Yes, healthcare organisations can adhere to regulations while also getting valuable insights from the wealth of data they have available. However, to help do this, organisations must own their data. This means data must be backed up and stored in an environment that they have control over, rather than in the SaaS vendors’ applications.
Backing up historical SaaS application data directly from an app into an organisation’s own secure cloud infrastructure, such as AWS or Microsoft Azure, makes it easier, and less costly, to maintain a digital chain of custody – or a trail of the different touchpoints of data. This not only increases the visibility and auditability of that data, but organisations can then set appropriate controls around who can access the data.
Likewise, having data from these apps located in one central, easily accessible location can decrease the number of copies floating around an organisation, reducing the surface area of exposure while also making it easier for organisations to securely pull data into business intelligence tools.
When healthcare providers have unfettered access to all their historical data, the possibilities for growth and insights are endless. For example, having ownership and ready access to authorised data can help organisations further implement and support outcome-based care. Insights enabled by this data will help inform diagnoses, prescriptions, treatment plans and more, which benefits not only the patient, but the healthcare ecosystem as a whole.
To keep optimising and improving care, healthcare systems must take advantage of new tools like SaaS applications. By backing up and owning their historical SaaS application data, they can do so while minimising the risk to patient privacy or compliance requirements. Having this ownership and access can propel healthcare organisations to be more data-driven – creating better outcomes for everyone.