Telemedicine systems have become more popular over the last few years due, partly because payers are starting to reimburse for telehealth services, but the industry is on the cusp of extensive adoption thanks to the next generation of technology. Combined with better uses for existing data, these technologies are poised to transform virtual care.
Artificial intelligence is the technology most often mentioned, but these tools include machine learning, chatbots, diagnostics, and even sensors. How will these technologies transform telemedicine systems and advance population health? Let’s take a look.
Chatbots and Machine Learning
Up until now, virtual health technology has not proven to be scalable, which is a major limitation. When it comes to remote patient monitoring, a significant workforce is required to make it all work. However, machine learning and chatbots are finally proving to be valuable to remote patient monitoring, making it possible to clear the hurdle of scalability.
Machine learning in particular has been integral to companies like Sentrian and PhysIQ. By automatically tracking an individual patient’s baseline – namely whether the patient is improving or not – these companies can more efficiently utilize a workforce for remote monitoring.
Another way scalability is being achieved is through automation and tools like chatbots. Surprisingly, chatbots can be more valuable than humans in some situations. Among youth, for example, chatbots can significantly help reduce depression and improve medication adherence. This doesn’t mean that all care should be automated, but it does show the benefit of automating certain functions.
Much like machine learning and automation, artificial intelligence can prove to be very valuable for telemedicine. AI will likely be used to handle a variety of tasks currently performed by primary care doctors. For example, an AI engine might ask patients a series of questions that primary care physicians are required to ask about health histories and symptoms.
Artificial intelligence can be advanced enough to tailor questions to a specific patient and will even remember which questions a patient had previously been asked. At some point, video could be used in tandem with an AI engine so it can inspect and observe a patient’s condition. Wearable devices can be used in tandem with this technology in order to monitor vital signs.
Though AI may not be able to diagnose patients or prescribe drugs, doctors can use their reports to more quickly analyze a patient and make a diagnosis.
An Abundance of Sensors
Sensors are another technology that will help telehealth become more proactive. Sensors built into households or consumer electronics, like a smartphone, can trigger medical services when necessary. For example, if a sensor detects cardiac issues, it can prompt a telehealth doctor to respond to a patient’s phone. Within minutes, medical intervention can take place and lives can be saved.
The use of sensors in telemedicine will likely have far-reaching implications on how patients receive care, the cost of said care, and even on the health of the population.
Telemedicine is already used to connect patients with specialists over distance, but genomic medicine could vastly improve personalized care without patients having to meet their specialist face to face. Though a patient might have to visit a nearby medical center to access genomic sequencing equipment, that visit can improve telemedicine from that point on.
A patient’s genetic makeup, as well the patient’s medical history, can then be used by a remote doctor to better diagnose and treat them. This advancement, as well as other emerging diagnostic tools, can allows physicians and patients to remotely mimic in-person meetings. Some telehealth platforms are already making use of cameras and other connected peripherals to examine a patient’s physical appearance, listen to body sounds, and even take pictures.
Just a few years ago, much of these technologies weren’t developed enough to benefit telemedicine platforms to this degree. While there’s still a long way for the next generation of technology to go, the groundwork is already in place and these tools will greatly advance population health.