Whole person care is what healthcare needs to make transformational change. With digital health, we can see this finally happen. Implemented correctly, digital health can mobilize skilled care providers to facilitate easier access to health services in a holistic and timely manner. The vision behind it is to combine technology across the entire patient care journey to deliver holistic care and insights. This will facilitate the collection and understanding of data from diagnostics to lifestyle and disease management, moving away from the current episodic model.
Under the existing paradigm, healthcare is delivered in an episodic format. Treatment and risk management are addressed which limits the patient’s ability to cope, acclimate, and thrive. But digital healthcare facilitates the successful delivery of long-term and holistic care that takes into account the needs of both patients and healthcare providers. The vision is to transform ‘digital healthcare’ into ‘healthcare’.
Added to this is the fact that the terms digital health and telehealth are often used interchangeably. Telehealth is just one element of digital healthcare, and its goal is to remove the barrier of physical presence and offer care while providing convenience and accessibility for patients. Telehealth enables patients to receive care without having to leave their home, drive to a clinic and try to find parking before an appointment, or find time off work or childcare to make the visit. With travel time eliminated and after-hours availability, telehealth can be delivered anytime, anywhere. And it goes both ways – healthcare providers can use telehealth to expand their footprint in remote areas without having to move to easily see those patients, and they can also serve more patients at once.
Telehealth focuses on acute and episodic problems through video or telephone consultations. Many of the popular telehealth platforms provide concierge medicine and urgent care services, not specialty care or long-term care. These services are critical to health care, especially when it comes to short, follow-up visits. However, they are not designed to meaningfully address the patient’s long-term needs.
Digital healthcare takes a more holistic approach that is delivered to the patient longitudinally through an ecosystem. Diverse data resources, devices, technologies, and applications are seamlessly connected and work together to create a more complete picture of the patient—one that doesn’t rely on disjointed pieces of data. He is constantly coming up with new ways to deliver healthcare and improve patient outcomes. Thanks to digital health, clinicians can make the necessary adjustments and more informed assessments of the health of patients and the general population. The goal is to deliver the right treatment to the right person at the right time to improve decision-making and limit costs.
Telehealth certainly had its place in the midst of the pandemic to provide virtual care without geographic barriers. It was important for patients to have access to episodic care for ailments such as rashes, fever, flu and other occasional disorders. However, when it comes to chronic disease and overspending, telehealth alone will not move the needle because it requires a longer-term commitment. “85% of our health care costs are the result of chronic diseases. Continuous, connected care is a necessity to improve outcomes for chronic patients. They need a different kind of telemedicine—one that facilitates improved care coordination and seamless provider access,” Dr. Waqaas Al-Siddiq, DBA, founder and CEO of Biotricity Inc.
Telehealth as a single point of contact can be supported by other innovations to help move the needle on chronic disease. Access to digital healthcare as all inclusive service has been enhanced with several new technologies and services, including wearables, remote diagnostics, sensors, electronic health records, big data, the Internet of Things, software and new applications. As we know, but often forget, it is easier and cheaper to prevent disease than to treat it. If telehealth can help bridge the gap between patients and healthcare providers, episodic care can be reduced. These innovations help positively influence patients to prevent and manage disease while being empowered and self-aware.
Digital healthcare allows for a whole individual, holistic approach, the importance of which providers have been emphasizing for some time. Although multi-layered information is collected, limited information is exchanged due to poor coordination of services. Breaking down data silos and integrating services and patient care will give physicians the tools they need to better coordinate their care, make decisions, and act proactively. More recent advances in digital healthcare are enabling providers to provide comprehensive patient care and support in a way that was previously impossible.
Following the patient at every stage of disease progression, from diagnosis to disease management and integration of different technologies, digital health provides deeper insights and help to manage care. For example, a patient can receive a remote diagnosis, move to a hospital for a procedure, and then be managed remotely with home monitoring. Each of these solutions will support the other and information will be provided at each stage to the care team. Taking it a step further, each stage will also focus on patient engagement and support, all delivered through digital healthcare.
Providing patients with tools such as wearables and monitors is both encouraging self-management, self-service and participation and incorporating telehealth into this digital strategy. The result is a huge improvement in patient engagement. It also allows for more opportunities to be proactive and improve collaboration with care providers. By leveraging powerful analytics, science and real-time patient monitoring, patients can enjoy more personalized and targeted care. This has a ripple effect of reduced costs and improved patient satisfaction. It also enables better resource management by using proven tools used in other sectors to match capacity with demand, plan staffing and improve scheduling.
As the increasing availability of telehealth services continues to be a focus in healthcare, it is also important to focus on long-term, specialized services. Why? To avoid the risk of patients making uninformed decisions or receiving unsafe advice from individuals acting online as legitimate care providers, healthcare providers must be an integral part of the long-term digital health monitoring process. Emphasizing and increasing access to long-term care will result in a drastic reduction in unnecessary appointments, costly referrals and avoidable assumptions. The focus must be placed on patients having access to reliable and trustworthy information to avoid neglect or avoidance of care. Digital health can – and should – be the primary driver for specialized services through secure devices, software, platforms and care team members.
After all, there is a timely opportunity to turn “digital healthcare into a better version of healthcare.” Telehealth conveniently provides high-quality service to patients requiring episodic care. However, the goal is to provide more holistic care to patients in a less transactional manner. There are new applications and technologies that enable the availability of reliable information and health services. With the help of digital health, patients can work closely with providers to help manage or even prevent disease by becoming self-empowered and informed about their well-being. And with telehealth working as part of the digital ecosystem, patients and the general population can have a better understanding of health issues. Building a better healthcare system is possible – if we focus on holistic care, not episodic care.
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