Virtual care: How mobility and data are transforming the healthcare industry
With mobility on the rise, patient healthcare is starting to manifest outside the hospital. Though virtual care, or telemedicine, is not necessarily a new concept, faster internet connections, increasingly integrated electronic health records databases and the rise of on-demand services have made it possible for this emerging industry to gain a significant foothold in healthcare.
To illustrate this, Grandview Research published a report projecting that the global healthcare IT market will reach $104.5 billion by 2020, and telecommunication and telemedicine accounts for 40 percent of that overall market share.
Basics of virtual care
Medical professionals are increasingly connecting with their patients through webcams, mobile phones and email to provide routine care. Likewise, patients are using smartphones and other wearable devices equipped with health monitoring and reporting apps to supply medical professionals with real-time data into the ongoing state of their health, wherever they are. For many patients, this often means they’re communicating from home. For example, The National reported that HealthTap lets users send text messages inquiring about particular issues that can be addressed by one or more of the company’s 60,000 registered doctors.
Telemedicine also enables healthcare professionals to provide better care to patients in areas that have limited access to research and specialized facilities. For instance, The Wall Street Journal reported that Doctors Without Borders uses telemedicine in order to make sure physicians in remote locations get the most up-to-date medical information and guidance.
Virtual care centers are also on the rise. In this model, patients can visit a center staffed with nurses and other professionals that facilitate a virtual session with a remote doctor or specialist through a teleconference system. Though the University of North Carolina has already been providing telemedicine services for a few years, the organization recently partnered with Mercy Virtual to expand these types of services, according to Modern Healthcare. In the deal, UNC will eventually be able to access medical professionals at Mercy’s 34-hospital system across four states. Mercy has even gone as far as to require its physicians to complete a rotation in virtual care services.
Centralized databases enable virtual care
Though increased network speed is a huge enabler of telemedicine today, access to centralized and integrated data repositories powered by analytics platforms makes the model possible. The idea is to provide medical professionals with seamless and on-demand access to patient records, drug inventories, staff availability and medical images to not only provide better ongoing virtual healthcare, but to improve overall operations. To make this work, organizations must integrate multiple databases on the back end that professionals can access through a single front-end interface.
In addition, data analytics are no longer a nice thing to have — they’re essential. With these platforms in place, for instance, hospitals can measure and improve performance, while offering proactive and personalized care from wherever patients are.
With the rise of mobility, virtual care will undoubtedly continue to grow. Though there are many variations of the business model that are still emerging, one thing is certain: They all depend on integrated databases and powerful data analytics platforms to make it work.