The corona pandemic has shown the world that telemedicine is an undeniably effective — and important healthcare innovation, but even when it’s working optimally, healthcare as a whole still isn’t. Because while telehealth has made remote care possible, it hasn’t changed the reactive character of the industry: a patient has a problem, they get seen by a provider.
This reactive character means potential is left on the table. Potential for better patient outcomes and ramped up clinical productivity, and potential for more actionable data and a preventative, rather than curative, outlook.
The digitization of consultations and appointments was the first step forward in transforming modern healthcare, but in order to achieve our greatest value potential, it can’t be the last. In order to effectively change the reactionary framework we’re accustomed to, patients can’t just be tracked through periodic visits. They must be tracked and supported continuously. Telemedicine will not move the needle in healthcare. We need to focus on the entire care process, from preventative care to diagnosis to long-term follow-up.
By following a patient throughout their entire healthcare journey — rather than just the most dire moments — telemedicine companies can evolve their care framework from reactionary to preventative. They can provide education and support at every stage in a patient’s pathway, and they can stay consistently up-to-date — so when more hands-on treatment is required, it’s realized faster.
For a diabetic patient, a digital care pathway might look like receiving educational pamphlets on healthy eating and exercise, as well as having one secure place for test results and treatment plans to be tracked for easy monitoring. It might look like being able to request an immediate call with a practitioner when something’s not quite right, and that practitioner having all the insight into the patient’s history they need to formulate the right plan.
For a depressed patient, a digital care pathway might look like having access to information regarding their medication and other recommended treatments (like yoga, I love yoga), and submitting Patient Reported Outcome Measurements (PROMs) to their psychiatrist regularly. Or, it might simply look like having an always-open channel for communication, so they feel heard at every stage.
Rather than replacing telemedicine, our collective aim should be a model where the patient feels continuously supported — and where they have the tools they need to take charge of their health proactively, rather than passively waiting on the sidelines. In addition to checking off those boxes, digital care pathways leave room for automated data collection, seamless collaboration between practitioners, and an unparalleled degree of flexibility in care.
In other words: they continue the benefits telemedicine first made possible — efficiency, adaptability, and personalization — in vaster, more intentional ways.
Technology is always changing — and so are the needs of our clinics, practitioners, and patients. Telemedicine has been the first step to harnessing the power of innovation, but we can’t let it be the last. The future of telemedicine is all about improved visibility across the entire care pathway, not only during the visit. By leveraging virtual care opportunities within the broader framework of care pathways, we can move away from the reactionary dynamic, and achieve one that’s more holistic, preventative, and focused on the long-term. So everyone — from patient to practitioner — can reap the benefits.