While the rest of the world fights to end the pandemic and return to normal, the pre-pandemic normal will never return for the healthcare industry. While several of the emergency protocols demanded by social distancing measures and surging infection rates will disappear, many of the technical innovations fostered by the pandemic will remain. Through in-person care will still be the cornerstone of emergency medicine post-pandemic, telehealth and mobile healthcare facilitated by Medical Tablets and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) will be an integral part of specialty healthcare post-pandemic.

What is Specialty Care? 

Healthcare can be broadly divided into three main components: urgent/emergency care, primary care, and specialty care. According to Law Insider, specialty care is defined as “advanced medically necessary care and treatment of specific physical, mental or behavioral health conditions or those health conditions which may manifest in particular ages or subpopulations, that is provided by a specialist, preferably in coordination with a primary care professional or other health care professional.” Physical therapy, gastroenterology, oncology, and dermatology are considered specialty care, while a yearly check-up would be regarded as primary care.

Telehealth Brings the Experts to You

Despite its newfound importance, telehealth is nothing new. Before the pandemic, 22% of physicians reported using telehealth services to see patients in some capacity. That number increased to 80% in 2020. However, the pandemic has not only drastically increased telehealth’s adoption but has also changed its implementation. While in 2019, telehealth was primarily utilized in urgent care, in the wake of COVID-19, the number of virtual specialty care visits has far outpaced the number of virtual urgent care visits.

Enhanced Care in Rural Communities

Telehealth offers many advantages to both patients seeking specialty care and doctors who work in specialized fields. In particular, telehealth allows patients in rural and underserved areas to consult with and receive care from specialists and experts who they would otherwise have to travel great distances to see. 

Most people think of telehealth in terms of video chatting. However, many rural areas have scant broadband access, and such bandwidth-heavy video chats are not feasible. Thankfully, doctors can use HIPPA compliant SMS texting applications to check in on patients without high-speed internet access, which is especially useful for patients who would otherwise have to travel great distances to be seen.

Easier Access for Patients with Mobility Issues

The advantages of telehealth don’t just increase healthcare access to those limited by their geography. Patients with limited mobility and those with chronic conditions can now regularly check in with their care provider without worrying about how they will transport themselves to the doctor’s office each time. For instance, a patient on bed rest can use their smartphone or tablet to video chat with their doctor on a webcam-enabled device. 

Greater freedom means that people with compromised mobility, especially disabled people, will see the doctor more frequently and receive an overall increased level of care.

Doctor to Doctor Consultations

It’s not only patients that benefit from the increased adoption of telehealth, but also doctors themselves. Not only can doctors widen their geographical reach, but they can also more easily consult with other specialists. 

Before the widespread adoption of telemedicine, doctors would have to rely on email and phone calls to consult with other specialists, often creating massive treatment delays as they waited for a response. Further, it was often impossible to speak with or examine the patient in question themselves. Instead, the consulting physician would have to rely on charts and notes to make their assessment.

A primary or emergency care doctor can now consult multiple specialists around the world right from their Medical PC or Tablet during their appointments. The specialist can video chat with both the patient and the primary doctor and check the patient’s vitals using the connected Internet of Medical Things devices.

Internet of Medical Things and Chronic Care

While telehealth allows doctors to easily video chat with patients and other doctors, unfortunately, there is only so much that a doctor can determine via webcam alone. What if a doctor needs to collect a patient’s vitals during a remote exam? Enter the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT).

We’ve covered various innovations in IoMT on this blog before, but in short, IoMT refers to an interconnected network of medical devices and digital sensors that collect and share data via the Internet. Doctors and other healthcare professionals can see this data visualized on a medical tablet or medical panel PC. During the current pandemic, healthcare systems worldwide have used IoMT devices to help track and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Not only have IoMT devices been leveraged in the fight against covid, but medical specialists have also taken advantage of the technology to administer care to people with chronic conditions. Patients with chronic conditions that need monitoring, but not necessarily regular physical intervention by a healthcare professional, can use wearable sensors or handheld peripherals to scan various vital signs and wirelessly transmit them to a specialist miles away. 

Though remote monitoring will not fully replace in-person visits, doctors will likely continue to rely on remote monitoring and telehealth for chronic care in a huge way after the pandemic. In fact, according to a recent poll by Amwell, 93% of physicians have indicated that they are willing to use telehealth for chronic care management.

Mobile Computing and Wireless Connectivity Advancements

Telehealth and remote patient monitoring are certainly revolutionary advancements in healthcare administration. However, there is no replacement for the human touch. Some procedures must be conducted in person. Although in-person visits are not going away any time soon, that does not mean every doctor’s appointment must occur at a doctor’s office or hospital.

Rugged medical tablets equipped with 5g wireless connectivity can free up healthcare professionals to see patients in the field rather than making patients come to them. Specialists like physical therapists can visit their patients in their homes and access their electronic health records right on the tablet. Combined with IoMT devices, a specialist can receive data on a patient’s vitals and treatment in real-time, visualize it on the tablet and share it via the cellular network with other specialists around the world for their input. 

What before would require a series of phone calls and emails that could take weeks to receive a response can happen instantly, right in the patient’s home.

Remote Care Reduces Costs for Providers and Patients

Because remote care reduces the need for in-person visits to healthcare facilities, future widespread adoption of telehealth in specialty care can significantly reduce operating costs across the industry. The reduced patient load in facilities frees up resources and allows them to be redirected to intensive procedures where they are needed most. Providers can then pass these savings on to their patients in the form of lower fees.

One thing that held up the widespread adoption of telehealth services before the pandemic was reimbursements. Though doctors leverage the same level of expertise that they would during an in-patient visit, until COVID-19 hit, many health insurance companies and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) did not pay doctors the same amount for virtual appointments. 

Fortunately, in March 2020, CMS issued new guidance that created a reimbursement parity between in-person and virtual visits. Private insurers similarly followed suit, though many have done so on a month-to-month basis. This means that for the first time, doctors and other healthcare professionals were receiving the same pay for telehealth visits as in-person visits. Given the potential savings offered by remote care, it is easy to see that such parity policies will remain in place post-pandemic and remain profitable.

Final Thoughts

Though already poised to be a significant part of healthcare in the 21st century, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated the widespread adoption of telehealth and remote care. Specialty care, in particular, will be forever be transformed by the pandemic. NO longer will patients be forced to come into a facility for routine checkups and chronic care, a boon to patients in rural areas or with limited mobility. If you’re interested in learning how you can join the future of connected healthcare, contact one of the experts at Cybernet Manufacturing today.