Year 2020 has brought about an important change in our lives. The rapid expansion of Coronavirus and the need to lockdown to contain its expansion has brought with it a change in our behaviour. What until now has been another element of the house, Internet, became essential in replacing face-to-face interaction. Health and education, two services based on personal interaction, were very disturbed.
The concept of “digital”, adjective related to fingers, is now a term related to the technology that allows the use and storage of data.
Being digital means that using this data, we can make better decisions in less time, in short, be more efficient. Nevertheless, this requires changes in business processes and company culture, which are taking place at a slow pace.
Pandemic has accelerated digital transformation. Video calls have experimented a boost. Even though this digital service started a few years ago, nowadays it is very frequently used.
Not only referred to regular business meetings but to other services requiring human interaction.
The effect of the change has an impact on both sides of the process, the supplier and the end user. The user becomes more demanding; the value of the service is a priority. The price-value ratio has a great weight, generating a demand that is increasingly bespoke to the needs of the user, at more competitive prices. In addition, younger people are more willing to share data if they receive better service or get more benefits in return.
If we put together the use of technology with the information we can get from it, the evolution of this relationship has gone through several steps, from traditional to futurist.
Here is the evolution:
Traditional, using technology as support, where personal interaction is still the main factor and data is unstructured.
Automation based on technology with expert systems and automated decisions. There is more man-machine interaction. There is a selective process restructure and data becomes more structured.
Predictive based on Data Science with a higher degree of man-machine interaction. Total process redesign and extensive use of Business Intelligence.
Futurist with the presence of Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing and Blockchain. Use of knowledge to interact with all digital process and artificial intelligence applied to data.
In Medicine, we have seen many of the technological changes in the improvement of diagnostic, surgical and laboratory techniques. Diagnostic imaging devices with higher resolution, 3D images, high-precision surgical robots or complicated techniques for identifying cell markers are clear examples. If we bring these technological changes to the healthcare area, we find new process for diagnosis, monitoring and treatment, in short, a new model of interaction with the patient, telemedicine.
We could define Telemedicine as the provision of remote care, that is, in a different place from where the patient and the doctor are, thanks to new communication systems, ICTs or information and communication technologies. This allows us, not only to see the patient but, a to receive data on his/her health status, offering continuous care with the aim of improving their quality of life.
We can define various levels of interaction with the patient:
- Preventive: through the reception of basic health data with more or less sophisticated devices called wearables.
- Follow-up: control of chronic diseases using devices that send essential data for the control of the disease, such as blood glucose and blood pressure.
- Medical consultation: real-time communication between the doctor and the patient allowing a kind of face-face visit with other advantages, such as online prescription of medication.
- Management: through websites and mobile Apps where the patient can check their medical records, tests results, vaccinations, appointments, check-ups or health alerts.
- Hospital. Devices at patient’s bedside interacting with him or her, identifying needs, controlling medication and alerting risk situations or any other intelligent device that can help with patient treatment, follow up or care.
Here is an example of a remote control model process. All areas of healthcare connect to the central Data Management Centre.
Another more concrete application of Telemedicine is on Geriatric Medicine, hotel primary care or school medical care. The use of an intelligent briefcase including several connected devices, allows remote examinations of patients with the simple help of the onsite nurse. One side of the briefcase has the screen allowing video consultation; the other side has several devices to measure basic vital signs: blood pressure, oxygen saturation, heart rate, glucose level, a stethoscope for chest examination, otoscope, EKG and some others.
This remote control kit offers 24-hour service allowing registration of medical records.
Unfortunately, the current use of Telemedicine is not as widespread as we would like. Despite the numerous advantages that this model offers, there are some considerations to take into account:
- Investment in technology
- Devices, both at home and in hospital, to collect, register and manage data to provide proper care.
- Software for care management.
Both private and public healthcare providers must consider how to include these investments in their service and business model and evaluate the cost/benefit of their implementation.
Letting the patient take care of the cost of home devices is an option. This have other implications on Pharmaceuticals since their current production of measuring devices may not have the communication technology required to provide this remote service.
- Adequate healthcare model. Allocate resources based on the required Healthcare local model. Rural areas may require more sophisticated communication systems due to their geographical situation. The widely use of intelligent phones is a trigger to develop new healthcare models.
- Powerful and secure data storage systems given the confidentiality of the information. Data protection has become an extremely delicate issue when dealing with such sensitive information. European legislators have set very rigorous measures to safeguard any breach. This is an important cost to add to the above-mentioned need of investment.
- Secure communication systems. Authentication, secured access to platforms, encryption and other secured measures.
- Training medical staff and patients for each specific healthcare model. Both parties require to training on the use of these applications and advantages brought in for healthcare.
Disruption has just starts in the word of Medicine and Healthcare. New concepts such as virtual and augmented reality are really pushing.
Augmented reality, that is, technology that allows the user to interact with the real world and collect images and information on how it interacts with the environment, has starts to be use in physiotherapy and other fields of biomechanics. This option would allow the evaluation of the individual through almost real situations. We will still have to wait a few more years to be able to experience this new model at a large scale.
We must prepare ourselves for the technological changes that we will experience in the coming years, since they will change not only diagnostic or therapeutic concepts, but also the way of interacting with patients and the practise of Medicine.