The Future of Telehealth: 5 Emerging Trends

The adoption of telehealth has experienced a significant surge over the past few years. This is in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic but also because of recent developments in technology. As more and more patients experience telehealth, it continues to become the preferred method of healthcare. As a result, more healthcare practices are transitioning to telehealth by adopting emerging telehealth trends. Such trends enable healthcare providers to offer virtual healthcare services, delivering optimized care and convenience to their patients. These five trends, in particular, are drastically growing in popularity and shaping the future of telehealth. 

1. Asynchronous Telehealth


When the concept of telehealth was initially developed, it focused almost exclusively on synchronous telehealth services. Synchronous telehealth is a real-time interaction between a patient and their provider via a virtual platform. This concept was instrumental in facilitating remote doctor’s visits but was still limited by the presence of both parties at the same time.

While real-time communication is a critical aspect of telehealth, many healthcare providers adopt asynchronous telehealth services to supplement their synchronous ones. Asynchronous telehealth enables patients and providers to share, upload, and view medical data through a telehealth platform without real-time constraints. Users can access this medical data at their convenience - at any time or location. Asynchronous telehealth is tremendously beneficial for this reason, as patients can still get the information and care they need outside of a doctor’s appointment. 

As a result, patients have increased access to healthcare tools, ensuring that they get the care they need when they need it. Through asynchronous telehealth, patients can access medical records, treatment plans, and any other data they may need to maintain their health between visits with their physician. As patients can access medical data as they please, they receive “full-time” care without constant interaction from their provider. Consequently, patients feel more in control of their health and receive improved care from their providers. 


2. Adoption of Digital Tools


In addition to asynchronous resources, healthcare providers adopt telehealth platforms with a wide array of digital tools. A telehealth platform encompasses all of the medical data and tools that a practice could need. One of the most beneficial tools within a telehealth platform is its ability to store electronic health records (EHR). Traditionally, patients had to store their medical images and records on a CD to physically bring to their doctor, but today all records can be uploaded digitally. As a result, records are more secure and easier to access and preserve. 

Another highly beneficial digital tool is ePrescriptions. Through a telehealth platform, doctors can diagnose patients and prescribe them medication accordingly. This is highly convenient as it saves patients from commuting to an in-person visit just to refill a pre-existing prescription. As a result, patients get the medication they need quickly and conveniently.

Speaking of convenience, providers and patients are also benefiting from digital scheduling capabilities, which can significantly accelerate the scheduling process. Patients can easily schedule, move, and cancel appointments with their providers through their telehealth platform, whether virtual or in-person. For patients with chronic conditions requiring frequent visits, this is instrumental in keeping appointments organized and ensuring a seamless scheduling process. 

Other digital tools may include direct messaging, which enables patients to communicate directly with their providers outside of scheduled appointments. This ensures that patients can ask questions and receive answers in a timely manner. Additionally, many telehealth platforms are integrated with remote medical devices, allowing providers to monitor their patients’ health outside of the office. As a result, patients can reduce unnecessary doctor’s appointments while maintaining their health and keeping their providers informed. 


3. Artificial Intelligence 


Artificial Intelligence (AI) has grown significantly in its capabilities over recent years, even extending into the healthcare industry. In terms of telehealth, AI is being integrated with telehealth platforms to optimize patient care. AI-powered tools can provide automated interactions with patients during critical times. Healthcare chatbots integrated with medical data such as patient history, symptoms, medications, treatments, doctors, and conditions will consider a patient’s needs and produce a diagnosis and treatment plan accordingly. 

As a result of AI’s contribution to virtual diagnosis, the speed and accuracy of the diagnosis process can be drastically improved. With improved speed and accuracy, patients receive better care and are more likely to recover faster or find ongoing treatment to manage their condition. Additionally, as diagnoses can be made faster, healthcare providers can save time to then work with other patients or spend more time interacting with their patients in a meaningful way. 


4. Virtual Reality


Virtual reality (VR) can take virtual visits one step further, allowing patients and providers to participate in an immersive experience while still remote. VR has a wide variety of applications within telehealth. VR can be used as a teaching tool for children with autism, providing them activities and games to develop social skills communication. Another use of VR is for rehabilitation treatment prompting patients with physical activities to regain their strength without needing to come into a physical practice. Additionally, VR can be used to manage hot flashes in patients through cognitive behavioral therapy or relieve pain through VR-guided meditation. This is highly beneficial as previously, all of these treatments were only available in person. Fortunately, through VR, patients can remain remote while receiving the personalized care they need - treatments that were inaccessible or highly costly only a few years prior. 

Even for healthcare providers, VR can optimize the way they perform many administrative tasks. VR solutions can help health providers write patient summaries and notes, answer physician requests, create referral letters, and more. As a result, physicians can work more efficiently, ensuring that their time is spent focusing on patient care. 


5. mHealth


Two of the defining features of telehealth are convenience and accessibility. By making healthcare digitally accessible, patients have convenient access to the care they need more than ever before. Patients can communicate with their physicians from any location, opening them to a significantly broader range of providers. Additionally, patients have access to the resources and information they need at any time, enabling a sense of full-time care - but providers are taking it one step further using mobile telehealth applications, or mHealth. 

mHealth platforms support healthcare through mobile devices, utilizing mobile technology to achieve improved healthcare. With mobile telehealth tools, patients have an even greater level of access to healthcare than through a telehealth platform limited to a desktop. With mHealth, patients can upload and review medical records, schedule appointments, and conduct virtual visits all from their mobile devices. As a result, patients have even more accessibility and flexibility in healthcare. 

mHealth is instrumental in ensuring improved response time and access to healthcare, as patients and providers can use their healthcare platform with them at all times. This is highly beneficial in terms of communicating with providers through email, direct messaging, video conferencing, and voice calling. Patients can even use their mHealth platform to set pill and care reminders and seek immediate medical assistance if necessary. 

Patients can go about their day as they normally would, with the assurance that they can reach their provider, and vice versa, at any time. Overall, through the use of these emerging telehealth trends, patients receive greater access to healthcare, and providers can provide care more accurately and efficiently than ever before. In adopting these technologies and tools, every healthcare practice can provide an optimized level of care and convenience.


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About the author - Mircea Popa

Mircea Popa is the CEO and co-founder of Medicai. Mircea previously founded SkinVision, a mobile app designed to detect melanoma (skin cancer) through ML algorithms applied on images taken with smartphones. He believes that a multidisciplinary approach to medicine is possible only when everyone has access to a better way to store, transmit and collaborate on medical data.