May 2021 Digital Health Roundup

Now that it is here to stay, the focus has turned to what the future of digital healthcare will look like. The patients are weighing in and have some ideas about the areas digital care is most helpful and whether they prefer seeing their doctor online or in person. Lawmakers in the United States are addressing what measures will be taken to address access to telehealth and other health technology advances. Healthcare leaders around the world are busily prioritizing how digital tools will be used. One of the things they are focusing on is how to improve health outcomes, and that’s always good news for patients.

Healthcare leaders from 14 countries were asked about their plans for digital healthcare in the next three years, reports weforum.org, and two-thirds of them said that improving resilience and planning for future crisis topped the priority list. The second-most priority is the continued move to remote care with many healthcare providers investing in digital health programs, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Another focus is applying digital tools to improve value-based care, where providers are paid for improving health outcomes rather than for the number of patients treated. By 2026 it is expected that two-thirds of medical imaging will use AI to detect disease. The increase in technology systems will help lessen the load of hospitals and increase healthcare services at walk-in clinics and in-patient centers and home care, which will help bridge the healthcare gaps in rural and underserved areas. In developing countries digital healthcare helps by providing remote access to medical care and specialists. Some of the obstacles to digital care include lack of technology experience among staff members, and data security challenges. More information can be found here.

In addition to healthcare leaders, lawmakers are weighing in on the future of digital care through the reintroduction of the CONNECT for Health Act, reports hcinnovationgroup.com. First introduced to Congress in 2016, the act has recently been reintroduced by a bipartisan group of 50 senators. The comprehensive telehealth bill provides for expanded and permanent access to telehealth services made possible by legislation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The temporary COVID19 measures have made it possible for Medicare beneficiaries to access telehealth services and have allowed more types of providers to offer telehealth services, and these measures are set to expire unless action is taken. Since it was first introduced, several aspects of the bill have been adopted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that remove restrictions on telehealth services for mental health, stroke care, and home dialysis. The new version will allow more people to access telehealth services by permanently removing all geographic restrictions on telehealth services and providing the Secretary of Health and Human Services the permanent authority to waive telehealth restrictions. In addition, the bill would allow health centers and health clinics to provide telehealth services, which is currently temporarily allowed by the COVID-19 measures. The bill also requires a study to learn more about how telehealth was used during the COVID-19 pandemic. Find more information about the CONNECT for Health Act here.

Of course, when planning for the future of digital healthcare, it’s important to take the patients into consideration. As it turns out, says healthcareitnews.com, patients still prefer in-person care for long-term healthcare needs. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t like virtual visits at all. A recent survey found that 62 percent of respondents had some type of virtual care visit between March 2019 and March 2020 and now nearly one-third of respondents are more likely to choose virtual visits than they were before the pandemic, and 35 percent say they are just as likely to use virtual care. Mental healthcare and routine care were the preferred type of virtual visits. Another survey showed that age is a factor in whether or not patients use virtual. Patients aged 18 to 56 said they preferred video conferencing with their primary care provider while those over 57 said they preferred in-person care. Learn more about patient preferences here.

Another patient preference to consider is where they find digital tools most useful. A recent poll, reported in pharmaceutical-technology.com, reveals the most suitable areas for digital health tools were metabolic disorders, like diabetes and obesity, followed by cardiovascular diseases, infectious disease, and sleep disorders. Oncology was ranked fifth on the list of most suitable areas to use digital healthcare tools. Tied with oncology were pain management, respiratory diseases, and behavioral disorders. There were 336 responders to the poll taken from February 2020 to April 2021. Find out more here.

As long as lawmakers and healthcare leaders stay focused on improving patient care, the growing use of technology in healthcare should provide for better health outcomes for patients, now and in the future.