How The Pandemic Might Change Healthcare
We take a look at how the coronavirus pandemic may change the healthcare industry in the short and the long term.
The pandemic is shining a new light on the possibilities of treating and monitoring people remotely. The possibility exists that new technology may bring back a high-tech way of doctors once again making house calls.
We've seen technology creeping into the doctor-patient relationship for some time. With the inundation of mobile phones into our society, automated call, text and email programs have proliferated and provided effective and scalable ways to stay in touch (and to remind people of appointments). With the development of the cloud, it was only natural that additional IT solutions for mobile devices and laptops would be developed. Patient portals are pretty much routine now, connecting the patient to the doctor's office for information and communication.
The cloud is also now being used to connect people via online video to the doctor's office for routine encounters, preop consultations, quick post-op checkups and so on. Delivering an in-office experience with online ease is the very definition of telehealth — although doctors themselves still might not be as involved in terms of actual patient interactions as they could and probably should be.
The use of virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) equipment (headsets) and VR/AR software applications specifically designed for the healthcare ecosystem could assist in changing that aspect of the relationship. For example, my company has partnered with Sheba Medical Center in Israel on the use of our VR healthcare platform for cognitive therapy, physical therapy, pain relief and numerous other uses, all through the hospital. During the pandemic, the hospital is able to use the technology to "remotely" treat patients quarantined in the hospital, alleviating the possibility of healthcare workers coming in contact with infected patients.
The United States may be closer to seeing the return of "house calls" electronically via the cloud, combining new telehealth technology with the capabilities virtual reality can provide. For instance, we've established several virtual reality telehealth clinics in numerous states around the country where clinicians are able to remotely control the headset in order to see exactly what a patient is viewing and adjust settings and treatment in real-time. Once patients can use the headsets independently, data from ongoing therapy can be stored and analyzed in real-time. Patient status monitoring is improved while remaining in compliance with HIPAA privacy rules.
Ongoing advancements in what can be treated and new protocols may bring about the possibility of doctors routinely working from home, which could free up time for more personal one-on-one video interaction with patients. These interactions may restore a more human relationship of caring and respect. Perhaps remote live interactions will sharpen the focus of both the doctor and patient in working together. Imagine a doctor establishing personal friendships and the information that could be gained from these relationships.
Hopefully, once it is understood how the current pandemic started and how it spread, it will lead to policy actions that will assist in the prevention or mitigation of future worldwide viral outbreaks. But there is no doubt medical virtualization and the role of telehealth has the ability to transform healthcare. Improving access to direct communication is an example of innovation within the medical industry that will ultimately drive more innovation.