UNITED STATES—The scope for telehealth is expanding rapidly in the days of lockdown due to COVID-19. The prospective ability of the consumer market is appealing to policy makers, healthcare providers, fitness companies, and technology firms alike. The innovation of telehealth lets these entities give more individualized, patient-centered, convenient, and low-cost access to healthcare by means of new devices, drugs, settings, and services. 

According to the research by REACH Health, telehealth services are most frequently used in radiology, pediatrics, neurology, stroke,psychiatry and behavioral health. Other fast growing health specialties are chronic care, obstetrics, gynecologic, dermatology, and cardiology services. It was also revealed that acute care settings have the farthest adoption of telehealth in clinical settings. Telehealth will address more growing access demands, improve patient health, provide better care coordination, and reduce hospital readmissions across the healthcare continuum. Here is a glimpse of how telehealth would like in the near future. 

Machine Learning and Chatbots

According to a digital health senior analyst from a consulting firm in HIS, both automation and machine learning are attempting to get to the bottom of scalability, an innate issue in virtual healthcare. He further added that virtual healthcare technology is not at all scalable in nature. One still needs a significant workforce to reinforce the value chain. Nowadays, machine learning is already evolving in remote patient monitoring. In fact, there are already companies that offer solutions to provide better utilization of the clinical workforce in remotely monitoring patients. This is done by tracking automatically whether the patient is improving or not. This greatly improves scalability 7 to 8 times more. To be able to tackle scalability, some particular functions of virtual healthcare should be subcontracted and disintegrated back to the patient. Thus, one needs systems and automation led by the patient like chatbots.

In some specific cases, chatbots make even higher relative value as compared to human workers. Chatbots will be used as conversational agents that can copy human speech to pretend an interaction or conversation with a real person. One classic example is a study which focuses on creating mental resilience among young generations, the Chabot delivered outstanding results. Users who use the chatbot Wysa had around 45% reduction in depression and 10 times medication adherence. 

However, this does not also mean that mental health is better served via chatbots, rather it only suggests that certain aspects of care should already be automated. These patients would rather talk with a bot around 10 pm to 3 am, which will often include taboo topics. The next huge move for these automated services is to incorporate voice. A lot of telemedicine companies are already working with Alexa on this. With the advancements of machine learning and natural language processing, chatbots can deliver other clinical services like medical appointment scheduling, triaging, and patient navigation. These chatbots enhance patient wayfinding, thereby increasing overall patient satisfaction. No wonder why chatbots are something to look forward to in telemedicine. 

Artificial Intelligence will be transformative for healthcare

According to S Parija,CEO and founder of Doctorspring, one of the early mover in the B2C telemedicine space, AI can considerably improve telehealth by reducing the time spent by specialist doctors per patient. According to him, AI will change primary care through the innovation brought by telemedicine. The development of machine learning will allow AI engines to assume much of the responsibility given by primary care doctors. An AI engine, characterized by a human-like avatar will lead patients through a series of questions more likely similar or even more comprehensive than the ones primary health care providers ask during visits. 

With the beginning of genomic medicine, according to Mr. Satya, telemedicine will be utilized to give more personalized care based on genetic characteristics. The AI engine will adapt to what is already known about the patients and their answers. It won’t ask the same questions that other AI engines already asked because the answers will already be reflected on the patient’s online personal health record. 

In addition, the AI engine will also use video conferencing to observe and inspect the patient’s general health condition. Aside from that, AI will also consider mobile or vital signs monitoring through wearable sensors or other inexpensive devices. 

Remote monitoring, Diagnostics, and Genomics

Again Mr.Parija believes that another ground-breaking feature to expect with telemedicine is genomic therapy. Nowadays, telemedicine is currently used by specialists to consult patients in far-flung areas. As mentioned earlier, he also believes that with the initiation of genomic medicine, telemedicine will be able to give more personalized care to the patients. Patients will just need to visit any nearby medical centers provided with affordable genomic sequencing equipment.

A group of doctors scattered geographically will use telemedicine, as advised by AI engines, to discuss and decide the final diagnosis of the patient and the best treatment to go along with. The co-founder and chief product officer of Avizia, Mr. Cory Costley said that a new type of diagnostic tool and remote telemonitoring that somehow lets doctors and patients interact similarly as an in-person experience will be the highlight of the next generation of telehealth. 

Tools like these link the gap between what can be done remotely and what cannot be done. The innovation of telemedicine is very timely as the increasing physician shortages have aggravated problems with regard to healthcare access. This is just a sneak preview of how telehealth would look like in the near future. The ground-breaking innovations are aimed primarily to improve health access for all. Thus, almost all cannot contain their excitement about what is to come next with telemedicine. We hope that this will all be accessible in no time so that health will be a right that everyone can enjoy and not just a privilege for those who can get access to it.