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Digitalization is changing patient care dramatically: today, almost 400’000 health apps are available worldwide, the home healthcare market is exploding, machine learning is analyzing vast amounts of complex medical data in health applications, and when experiencing health problems, patients first seek information regarding the main health concerns. Speaking of patients, it must be mentioned that patients have never been better informed but also demanding of receiving the right health knowledge, than today. This trend will grow as patients are becoming more and more empowered by the digital transformation in health care. Home health monitoring devices are available to track patients’ conditions and automatically send the data to the responsible doctor. Therefore, digitalization is also transforming the work routines of doctors. As technology progresses, it is easier now than ever before to record real-time patient data and to look for health patterns.

It is not surprising that technological advancement is considered as the most decisive factor in changing health care. Certainly, the field of telemedicine is not left untouched by these innovations. Emerging devices and technologies even have the potential to enhance the range of services in telemedicine.

Telemedicine brings doctors and patients together.

In many countries, telemedicine is becoming an increasingly important part of the local health care infrastructure. The approach itself has been through an obvious and continuous evolution over the last decade. This is because telemedicine allows medical professionals to examine, diagnose, and treat patients at a distance by using telecommunication technology. The doctor and the patient do not sit face-to-face but are connected by telephone, the internet or more recently by apps. With precise questions, doctors can make an initial diagnosis and determine a suitable treatment plan. Usually, state-of-the-art software and devices support telemedicine doctors in making a diagnosis and ensure the quality of the treatment. The main aim of telemedicine is to bring together patients and doctors over great distances. Telemedicine has numerous advantages: not only can patients who are located in remote areas be treated by general practitioners and medical specialists, but also is this form of medical consultations which suitable for patients who do not want to lose time at the doctor’s office and want to get immediate treatment wherever they are and whenever they have time. Therefore, telemedicine meets a crucial patient need: to reach a doctor quickly, at any time and from anywhere. Telemedicine is a particularly important aspect in times of shortage of doctors, especially in rural areas. Thanks to telemedicine, costs can be saved, and unnecessary treatments and duplication can be avoided.

Technological Advancements are improving telemedicine.

A telemedical doctor is a health manager from a distance. Medical consultations and treatments are being continually enhanced by digital advancements: be it apps with additional functions, tools based on artificial intelligence, or digital devices like smartwatches which can be worn by patients and analyze various health indicators. Technological advancements are capable of supporting the telemedical doctors in their decision making and can be time-saving so that the doctor has more time for the actual consultation and examination of the patient. In the medical sector, all technological advancements need to meet one vital condition: they should not take the patient further away from the doctor but create greater proximity in the doctor-patient relationship.

Apps Make Telemedicine More Patient-Friendly

In the entire health care market, digital health apps are a rapidly growing filed: per day up to 200 new health-related apps are launched to the market. Naturally, telemedical companies are now also showing an enormous interest in developing apps that make telemedicine easier, faster and more secure. Apps containing functions like online appointment-booking systems, video-consultation functions or early symptom-checkers based on artificial intelligence. The possibility to book doctor appointments online corresponds to the modern patient’s needs. Appointments can be booked up to several hours in advance and no matter where the patient is currently located. Image diagnosis brings the telemedical doctor and the patients closer together: Photos of skin changes or minor wounds can be securely transmitted over apps. Such photos are particularly helpful for doctors in examining and treating their patients. In telemedical apps, video functions can be incorporated which allow patients and doctors to sit directly opposite to each other. In certain cases, the doctor can get an even better picture of the patient’s state of health. The video function is particularly suitable for dermatological concerns or complaints of the musculoskeletal system. Apps have the main advantage that they can be continuously developed, and functions can be added according to the rapidly changing patient’s needs.

Artificial Intelligence Can Help to Keep Health Care Costs Low

Augmenting the patient experience as well as that of the trained clinicians, artificial intelligence (AI) systems provide an added layer of decision support capable of helping mitigate oversights and duplication in health care administration. To be clear, digital systems cannot replace physicians. Rather, they can make doctors work more efficient and help patients and their loved ones identify symptoms before a physician gets involved to decide on or administer treatment. AI can be used to connect patients with the right form of treatment. In the case of telemedicine, symptom checkers based on AI can be incorporated in existing apps and advise the patients to which care provider they should turn with each medial concern. If a medical concern is probably treatable by telemedicine an appointment with a telemedical doctor can be directly booked over an app. Should patients require physical examinations, they will be referred to an appropriate care provider for a face-to-face consultation. Central to the development and digitization of the AI-based decision support system are user acceptance and user-friendliness. Automations based on AI are vital to keeping health care costs low and making processes more efficient.

For all fields of the healthcare industry, it will be challenging to develop technologies that can be connected and seamlessly work together. Moreover, it is vital that all health technologies, home healthcare devices, and apps are being medically supervised throughout the process of development and evaluation. When it comes to technological advancements in the health sector, the most important thing is, however, patients’ approval of digital health devices and health apps. The acceptance of the technology depends on various factors, e.g. user-friendliness, benefits, and confidence in the system. As shown by the above-mentioned examples of patient care in telemedicine, without the patient’s acceptance, the value of technological advancements is almost zero.

About the Author

Andy Fischer studied medicine before graduating in specialist studies in surgery and emergency medicine and was a physician in the Swiss emergency helicopter service (REGA) until 2006. In 1999 Andy Fischer founded Medgate and has led the entire Medgate group since then as CEO.

With Medgate’s Tele Clinic in Switzerland, Medgate operates the largest physician-operated telemedicine center in Europe and is the leading telemedicine provider with 20 years of experience.

Medgate is also present in the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines and India and with digital health solutions brings the doctor to where patients need him. Andy Fischer is President of the International Society for Telemedicine and eHealth (ISfTeH). He has been lecturing in Telemedicine at the University of Zurich since 2008.