To say that telehealth has come to prominence with the COVID-19 pandemic is a huge understatement. A technology that we’d been talking about for decades, suddenly became front and center in healthcare delivery.
Dealing with the pandemic
COVID-19 changed everything for telehealth, becoming one of the primary means to deliver essential medical services remotely and allowing doctors to keep in touch with patients in isolation. McKinsey estimated that almost one in two Americans are now using telehealth, up from just over one in ten a few months ago. The experience isn’t only a positive one for patients, physicians are also finding the experience beneficial with many reporting that it has deepened their relationships and patient trust.
Has the virtual clinical trial come of age?
But it’s not just in the direct doctor-patient relationship that telehealth has had a positive impact. Virtual clinical trials have long been talked about, yet pre-pandemic it was little more than a ‘blip’ on the clinical trial radar.
COVID-19 has forced sponsors and CROs to increase their use of virtual trails, with the FDA releasing guidelines for conducting virtual trials to streamline the process. It’s not just the regulators and drug companies that are keen on virtual trails so are the participants. According to Clinical Leader, recent data shows that patients still want to participate in clinical trials during the pandemic, with the vast majority supporting an increase in telehealth services and digital solutions.
Telehealth: the foundation of better patient outcomes
The potential for telehealth to drive better patient outcomes is well understood. As far back as 2012 pharmavoice set out how success for Life Sciences would no longer be measure by the number of prescriptions written, but by how those prescriptions or devices improved the health and lives of patients.
It changes the model for patient engagement with patients able to take a much greater role in their own health management. By closing the real-world evidence loop, we are gaining real-time insight into what’s actually happening with each patient. That vital data must be available to the patient, their doctor, healthcare providers, and others to address both patient wellbeing and continually improve the drug and device solutions.
This means a far greater degree of collaboration across the healthcare and Life Science sectors. Telehealth can provide a platform to bring all parties together to share, collaborate, and innovate. It provides an abundance of patient data to facilitate and accelerate performance across all aspects of the sector – from individual treatments to new drug development.
For example, a doctor holds a remote consultation with a patient about a sudden rash. Unlike the face-to-face environment, telehealth means everything can be recorded so no information is lost. The patient shows their rash to the doctor via a camera. That image can be captured and artificial intelligence applied to help the doctor speed the diagnosis and prescribe a treatment.
All information is securely stored, making it available for the doctor and other healthcare providers when required. It can also be tagged and anonymized so it can form source material for future trials and drug or device development.
The data challenge of telehealth still remains
It’s clear that information security and privacy is a challenge when patients can select their own endpoints – smartphones, wearables, laptops, portals – and the information they share is available to several other stakeholders. However, a bigger challenge to achieving the potential of telehealth lies in data interoperability.
The number of telehealth portals, apps, devices, and smart drugs is exploding but there are no universal or common standards for data interoperability. And this is not something the industry expects any time soon.
Instead, we need to deploy other methods to ensure that all the data collected from the different telehealth systems, as well as other sources of patient data, can be quickly brought together. There are now enterprise data management platforms available that can eliminate the potential of data silos within telehealth and unlock the value of telehealth data for everyone involved.
COVID-19 has changed the game for telehealth and given us a glimpse of what this technology area can bring. This question is when the pandemic is over, will we grasp it?
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