The past decade has seen a rise in the number of technologies, and telemedicine has been growing exponentially. Telemedicine can be broadly defined as the “technology that allows healthcare professionals to treat patients at a distance using telecommunications technology.”
This is just a broad definition, and the technology today covers everything from all-knowing apps like Doctor on Demand that can take care of your entire clinic journey to wearable electronics such as digital thermometers, Bluetooth-enabled stethoscopes, and heartbeat monitors, among others.
Here are a few statistics that will help solidify our claims:
- Healthcare spending in the US will constitute 19.4% of GDP by 2027, according to this report by CMS.
- 91% of all employers said they would offer some form of telemedicine support or another, according to a First Stop Health survey
- According to Massachusetts General Hospital, 79% of the respondents to a survey said it was more convenient to schedule a telemedicine follow-up visit compared to an in-person follow-up.
- The global telemedicine market, valued at $29.6 Billion in 2017, is expected to grow at a CAGR of approximately 19% during 2017-2022.
- A Frost and Sullivan report predicts that there will be a sevenfold growth in telehealth by 2025, at a CAGR of 38.2%.
So what is driving this growth? In this article, we look at five key factors that are fuelling the growth in telemedicine adoption across the world, and how 2020 will be a defining year for telemedicine.
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To first call out to the elephant in the room, rather than the dragon, the global Coronavirus pandemic is changing the way people are accessing healthcare across the world. The need for social distancing, the easy nature of the virus to spread from person to person, and the total lack of preparedness that governments across the world have to face, are just a few things that are driving the coronavirus train.
At the time of writing this blog post, there are an estimated 502,000 deaths due to the virus around the world, with more than a million deaths in the US alone. This is an unprecedented medical crisis, and the time is ripe for patients across the US to adopt telemedicine.
There are three major benefits of using telemedicine during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Remote scanning of patients – will prevent the disease from spreading to healthcare staff and other patients.
- Patients with chronic illnesses like asthma can avoid a visit to the doctor and avail of a video consultation at home, preventing exposure to COVID-19.
- Healthcare providers need not be exposed to the virus directly, meaning they will be able to continue serving the people and avoid a strain on the system in case they are absent.
Coronavirus has brought the glaring holes in our public health system to the limelight, and telemedicine may be one of the solutions to help stem this health crisis.
Millennials entering the workforce
As more tech-savvy millennials enter the workforce, we will see a widespread increase in the adoption of telemedicine. A survey was conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, of 3560 adults in the age group of 21-64, and it threw up some interesting facts about how millennials prefer to access healthcare.
- 40% of the millennials polled said that a telemedicine option by their employer was ‘very important.’
- Millennials are more likely to have reviewed or read the reviews of a doctor online before making a healthcare decision. They are also more likely to have used online cost-tracking tools provided by healthcare providers.
- Only 67% of the millennials polled had a primary care physician.
- Only 30% of all the millennials polled have ever used a walk-in clinic.
- They have a buying power of approximately 200 billion dollars.
These statistics clearly paint the picture of how telemedicine is of increasing importance to millennials. Add this to the fact that millennials number about 83 million, the largest chunk of the American workforce, showing that telemedicine adoption will only increase in the coming years.
The emergence of technologies
When it comes to telemedicine, technologies cannot be missed. Rather, I must say technologies are the driving force behind the surge of telemedicine apps. Here are a few technologies without which telemedicine apps cannot become successful as per the patients’ and doctors’ expectations:
5G is a game-changer in almost every sphere of the tech world, and telemedicine is no exception. As more and more companies around the world plan to launch 5G services by the end of 2020, access to telemedicine will no longer be hindered by internet connectivity issues.
According to this CNBC report, Coronavirus is accelerating the adoption of 5G technology in the US, with carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile testing waters as early as 2019. China has been very aggressive in the adoption of 5G, with 5G-powered robots assisting medicos in a Corona-infected hospital ward in Wuhan.
There are three obvious benefits to telemedicine when you adopt 5G.
- Access to rural areas – This Pew report shows that rural Americans live an average of 17 minutes away from their nearest hospital. With 5G technology, this rural population can be brought under the umbrella of telemedicine, improving patient satisfaction, and going one step toward universal healthcare.
- Quicker diagnosis – Medical images are usually large in size, and to make an accurate diagnosis, doctors need to catch every single minute detail. With 5G, large images can be sent across the nation for doctors in a matter of seconds, reducing patient waiting times and eventually saving lives.
- Improve AR and VR – The adoption of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in the healthcare sector is still in its nascent stage, but 5G technology can greatly enhance this segment. Doctors can eventually deliver less invasive treatment methods and focus on delivering innovative healthcare.
As 5G gains in prominence in the coming years, 2020 will be remembered as the year the technology really took off.
Investing in a telemedicine app this year will be one of the wisest decisions big businesses can take this year. We put together this video here that tells you why exactly you should consider investing in this space.
Can fitness trackers be used as sickness trackers? The answer is a Yes, according to this Washington Post article. Companies like Fitbit are now trying to use data collected from their fitness devices to see how they can predict illnesses, specifically the Coronavirus.
Scripps Research, for instance, is using data from your smartwatch to diagnose illnesses. Firms such as ekuore and Cybermed are targeting this wearables segment by coming up with digital stethoscopes and other wearables.
The wearables market is set to touch $54.4 Billion by 2023, according to this research by GlobalData. These devices need not be physically present on the patient all the time and can send back useful medical data whenever the patient wears them.
Wearable technology is going to take telemedicine to new heights, and the year 2020 has turned into a pivotal point in this technology’s adoption.
Artificial intelligence has been the buzzword for the past few years. Still, after the coronavirus pandemic, the need to analyze huge amounts of patient data and provide actionable insights has become more important than ever.
That is why 2020 is a defining year in the Artificial Intelligence space, especially when it comes to telemedicine.
AI can also help isolate patients who are most likely to have postoperative complications and provide them with better healthcare. A few examples of effective use of AI include:
- A ‘Best clip’ feature in a video clip that continuously assesses a video feed and auto-captures the best available clip.
- A quality meter that tells the user how good their clip is compared to a diagnostic quality clip.
- A ‘step-by-step’ prescriptive guidance feature that suggests to patients how best to use a remote-enabled device.
2020 also marks the sixth year of IBM’s Watson for Oncology, and by the end of the year, the Supercomputer will be able to diagnose 12 different types of cancer, which account for 80% of the cases around the globe.
A study by Atos has found that expenditure by healthcare firms in AI is projected to reach $5.4 billion by 2020. As more and more firms wake up to the benefits of using AI in conjunction with telemedicine, we can only expect these numbers to go up.
Those are the top 3 reasons why 2020 will be remembered as the year of telemedicine. Although we are staring at a worldwide pandemic that has caused a lot of distress, technology offers a sliver of hope to all of us.
To quote Lyndon B Johnson, the former US president –
“If future generations are to remember us more with gratitude than sorrow, we must achieve more than just the miracles of technology. We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as it was created, not just as it looked when we got through with it.”
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