The use of telemedicine is rapidly expanding, and its rise has spurred a wave of technological advances that are making it easier for those who need it to access healthcare any time, any place. In 2017, Americans are poised to gain even more access to medical professionals via smartphones and other digital health technology.
A 2015 study reported that there are over 165,000 mobile health apps available. Michigan’s Metro Health Hospital created a mobile app called MyChart, where patients can receive test results and timely health reminders, communicate via email with their doctors, and store summary records of medications and allergies.
HealthKit, an expanding Apple initiative, links measuring devices, such as those used at home by patients, with medical information services relied on by doctors, like medical software developer Epic Systems Corp. With the release of the Apple Watch 2, Apple is looking to further develop its app to include diagnosis capabilities using data from the watch.
Other companies have picked up the health app trend as well. In 2015, Walgreens launched an expansion of their mobile app, which offers MDLive’s telehealth services to users across the country, and in 2012, AliveCor released an iPhone cover and accompanying app that enables consumers to record and review electrocardiograms (ECGs) at any time.
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) uses digital technologies to collect medical and other forms of health data from individuals in one location and electronically transmit that information securely to health care providers in a different location for assessment and recommendations.
An example is Microsoft’s Kinect infrared camera, which has created the potential for several applications in telemedicine, ranging from robotic surgeries to guided rehab in a patient’s home. Originally built for Xbox game systems, the infrared camera will allow therapists to document rehab routines, monitor them and consult with patients.
Wearable wireless tracking devices, such as Fitbits, are another example of technology that is greatly assisting with remote patient monitoring. The entire device market is expected to reach $1.9 billion dollars by 2025.
Mercy Hospital in St. Louis built the first virtual care center in the United States, where care is delivered 24/7 via audio, video and data connections to locations across Mercy, as well as outside of Mercy, through partnerships with other health care providers and large employers.
Mercy officials say that services improving certain types of care will be especially valuable, such as telemedicine solutions to speed sepsis recognition and treatment, which could cut mortality by 50 percent or more and lower costs per case by more than $8,000.
Hackensack, New Jersey-based Vidyo is a pioneer in video conferencing technology and company executives see healthcare as a new frontier for their solutions. Working with McLean, Va.-based ViTel Net, Vidyo has put together a platform for integrating healthcare operations into a full-scale virtual network.
A recent study examining the overall effectiveness of the use of telemedicine for patient therapy proved that video conferences hosted for patients with PTSD are no less effective than in-person therapy.
Social media provides a way for doctors to interact with patients instantaneously. In 2014, a reported one-third of consumers were using social media to obtain medical information. A variety of institutions have realized the impact social media can have on health care delivery and the promotion of health and wellness.
Healthcare IT News outlines three ways social media is transforming the doctor-patient relationship, noting that it empowers patients to seek out information, make more informed decisions, and partner with their health care providers on managing their care.
As The Business of Federal Technology says, “flu spreads fast, but tweets spread faster.” Data-mining applications like Sickweather and MappyHealth scan real-time data from platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to look for health trends and plot illness-related mentions to a map, adding another way social media is impacting telemedicine.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2016 but has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.