Technology has decreased the distance between people. Outsourced manufacturing has brought together the global economy, Facebook and WhatsApp make it simple to have a conversation with a friend across the globe, and Google makes the spread of ideas across oceans instantaneous.
These trends have also greatly impacted the healthcare industry by shrinking the gap between patients and providers. Telehealth services – while still relatively uncommon – have increased in use over the last several years according to researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Let’s examine the rise of telehealth and how analytics can improve the experience for both patients and providers.
What is telehealth?
Telehealth is a very broad definition as it encompasses all healthcare services provided to a patient remotely. Along with supporting long-distance clinical care, the practice also applies to patient education and public health administration. Advances in video conferencing, streaming, and wireless communication have made this strategy far more viable.
In addition to telehealth becoming increasingly accessible for providers, it is also more necessary because of the incentive structure of value-based reimbursement. Providers are under more pressure to offer higher quality care and reduced readmissions. To achieve this, they have turned to remote telehealth options to stay in contact with patients and continue the recovery process outside of the hospital. A shift towards in-home care also mirrors consumer demands for a more convenient healthcare experience.
The shift towards telehealth has been enabled by technological advances and improvements in the service. The most obvious problem facing telehealth is the information gap between patient and provider. By harnessing the power of big data analytics, telehealth initiatives can reverse this problem and further decrease the distance between home and hospital.
Let’s look at how advances in data analytics can improve the telehealth experience.
Remote patient monitoring
In a recent podcast with SearchHealthIT, former Healthcare Projects head at IBM, Martin Kohn M.D., detailed the possibilities of big data analytics in remote population health. His startup company, Sentrian, was working on a solution that would cull large amounts of population health information to identify the most at-risk patients and prescribe individualized plans. Only through big data analytics is it possible to gain impactful insights into large populations. This process allows a provider to make timely decisions for the most important cases.
Accurate patient diagnostics
In cases where a patient cannot be in the hospital, providers can use data analytics to accurately measure diagnostics. The viability of remote diagnoses is becoming a clearer reality through the use of data solutions. These technologies piggy-back on in-home measuring devices to crunch a huge amount of information and provide accurate reports. By combining a massive pool of data, analytics is often able to measure results that go beyond a doctor’s personal expertise or local resource pool.
From a hospital’s perspective, data analytics can reduce readmission rates and help the hospital adjust to value-based reimbursement systems. This is best exemplified by El Camino Hospital, which used data-based insights to reduce the number of outpatient falls. The hospital system used technology to predict patients who were at greatest risk based on a number of factors, including the nurse call light located at the edge of beds. Analytics was then able to prescribe the best course of action for highly at-risk patients and reduce readmission rates.
Problems facing telehealth
Despite the promise of telehealth, adoption of telehealth initiatives is being bogged down by a number of factors – most notably, the high cost of implementation. Telehealth involves highly complex inputs, which run a high price tag. In addition, telehealth is best utilized in rural areas where patients are farthest from a primary care provider, but these locations tend to have the tightest budgets. Beyond cost, telehealth solutions require the transmission of large amounts of personal information, potentially exposing patients to data breaches. Users must also trust the validity and usefulness of the telehealth process as the industry transitions into unfamiliar, in-home territory.
For many organizations, though, the positives of telehealth far outweigh the negatives. The technology lessens the burden on the hospital system’s bottom line while also matching patient demand for a more convenient healthcare experience. Analytics has the potential to improve the telehealth experience for both patients and providers.
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