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What is telehealth? Ask the average person and they will probably describe a doctor/patient exam or consultation via video. Maybe the patient shows the doctor a rash or discusses a toddler’s seemingly endless coughing or a teenager’s anxiety.
You may view these as relatively minor or manageable issues, with the main benefit being you avoid schlepping to the doctor’s office to sit in a germy waiting room with similarly afflicted people. However, this is just the tip of the transformation iceberg, especially for rural communities.
I attended the annual conference of the American Telehealth Association (ATA) this spring in New Orleans. Star Trek fans would’ve been bored by the lack of gee-whiz gadgetry that would have Dr. McCoy salivating. But what was awesome were products and services that are disrupting in a good way the various routines of healthcare.
Half the exhibitors at the conference had “platforms” of one type or another. It is through these various platforms that the business of healthcare is accomplished.
To understand the value of these platforms, you have to understand continuum of care. This describes the integration of multiple health-care providers that spans all levels and intensities of care. This integration gives physicians a wider range of choices and solutions. A continuum of care reduces costs, improves results and increases patient satisfaction.
The continuum could be simple. A child develops chickenpox, for example. A doctor diagnoses and treats it, and a patient typically is cured in five to seven days. Most people get it only once. That’s a very simple continuum of care. On the other hand, a person who develops cancer can face a complex continuum that can involve many healthcare professionals and treatments while taking years to be cured.
Telehealth uses software, hardware, medical devices, telecom, and internet technologies to replace paper-based healthcare processes and procedures that vary by doctor, clinician, specialist, hospital, clinic, and family caregivers. These platforms and telehealth overall are becoming the foundation of a new continuum of care. While the typical video consult with a doctor may only require a megabit or two of data transfer, telehealth must leverage mountains of data and tremendous broadband capacity to be that foundation.
Thousands of businesses and organizations implement programs to help their employees stay healthy – on-site gyms, routine doctor exams, health coaches, etc. “The HAWA platform focuses a lot on people who have chronic illnesses and health challenges,” says Marilyn Crawford, Founder and CEO of HAWA Health. “The platform, real-time video and software tools, enables wellness vendors, physicians, and fitness professionals to meet with members to work through wellness management strategy.”
The HIPPA-compliant wellness programs created for members may involve USB-connected health monitoring devices and scales, flu vaccination coupons, and employer-specific healthy living programs. “Our members get access to some of the most up-to-date fitness, health, and wellness information, and our technology gives them total flexibility to fit the programs in with their busy schedules,” Crawford says.
The eyes are not only windows to the soul, they tell a lot about your health as well. This is particularly true when it comes to diabetes. Eleven percent of people in the so-called diabetes belt (644 counties across 15 Southern and Midwest states) are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes compared with 9 percent of people in the other U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Photographs of the retina at the back of the eye can help doctors see the microvasculature (tiny veins) and the optic nerve in enough detail to diagnosis vision-threatening eye disorders such as diabetic retinopathy (DR) and glaucoma. The pictures could also reveal the risk for hypertension, stroke, cardiovascular diseases, and neurological disorders like mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
“Quite a few people who are susceptible may not check with an optometrist, assuming that there is one in their area,” says Greg Russell, director of clinical development and Eyenuk. “Ophthalmologist are even be more scarce in parts of rural America.”
Eyenuk enables a primary-care physician to use the cloud-based artificial intelligence system and a camera to produce pictures of the retina. The physician can refer the patient to an ophthalmologist for treatment.
OrthoLive is an orthopedic telemedicine company that provides consumers with a network of orthopedic specialists and physical therapists. The vender also provides a telemedicine platform to manage electronic health record systems and orthopedic provider groups.
Mike Greiwe, OrthoLive’s CEO, says “Only 10% of orthopedics work is surgery. We have many patients who are elderly and need remote monitoring, especially right after surgery.
We’ve been working with home-health monitoring companies and short-tern nursing facilities to enable our services that reduce re- admissions. We monitor wound care, surgical incisions, and rehab activities.”
Craig Settles assists cities and co-ops with business planning for broadband and telehealth. He is currently surveying economic development professionals nationwide about the impact of telehealth and community broadband.