Telemedicine to solve the problems of healthcare?
Problems within our healthcare systems are imminent: rapidly rising costs, difficult healthcare coverage in rural areas and the shortage of skilled and experienced personnel. On the other hand, the population in industrialized countries is ageing, requiring more care, while the number of chronic diseases is on the rise.
Politicians, insurance companies and hospital operators are seeking for solutions to these problems. Since educating and recruiting additional personnel requires substantial effort and is costly, technology-based solutions may help leverage the existing resources to a maximum. For example, telemedicine is considered as one of the ‘remedies’ for the current situation.
Driven by technology innovations, increasing internet coverage and the spread of mobile monitoring devices, telemedicine is a fast-growing market. According to Fortune Business Insights the global market for telemedicine should grow from $bn. 49.8 in 2018 to $bn 266.8 by 2026, representing a compound growth of 23.4 %. Telemedicine could especially solve the problems created by the lack of medicare coverage in rural areas by providing medical services remotely i.e. for the patient at home. This includes the treatment of chronic diseases such as diabetes. Most of the diagnoses could be executed by the physician remotely. Also postoperative care could to a large degree be executed by telemedicine. Patients meeting the criteria for hospitalization but who are otherwise in a stable condition can be treated at home e.g. for diseases such as pneumonia or heart conditions in a virtual hospital ‘at home’. This will result in shorter treatment periods and reduced costs, leaving hospital capacities to emergencies and necessary on-site treatments.
‘Remote’ technologies including Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will also help leverage scarce expertise in the future. This can help in emergencies, where dedicated expertise might not be found in a hospital but could be accessed by liaising with an expert in a different location providing support during surgery. The use of ‘smart glasses’ using AR content will help surgeons to perform complex medical operations by visualizing the exact positioning of their surgical instruments. Surgeons will be able to share a view of the patient, MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Images) and X-rays with a remote expert in real-time during the operation. This will lead to execution of more qualified and complex surgeries, but also to improved accuracy with a decrease in operative errors compared with non-AR supported surgery.
Since educating and recruiting additional personnel requires substantial effort and is costly, technology-based solutions may help leverage the existing resources to a maximum. For example, telemedicine is considered as one of the ‘remedies’ for the current situation.
VR is already used for surgical simulations or rehabilitation and has great potential for training and education. Students and trainees will be able to learn and practice in a realistic environment without the risk of injuring a patient. Furthermore, patients can be walked through their treatment before it starts and therefore get a realistic picture of what to expect.
Although some of these technologies, such as smart glasses, are at the beginning of their lifecycle, the next years will see their rapid development and adoption.