The medical industry has frequently been an active influencer and adopter of cutting-edge technology. It’s not hard to see why. After all, what use are digital tools and machines if they can’t improve the quality of human lives? Often, these advances happen gradually in the background.
For the most part, it’s only medical professionals that interact with systems like artificial intelligence (AI) driven diagnosis tools or surgery robotics. However, one technological field both patients and care providers directly utilize is telehealth.
The last few years have seen telehealth adoption rise. Indeed, it’s now seen as one of the essential services all providers should offer. While this was largely a distancing necessity of the COVID-19 pandemic, both patients and doctors are keen to continue its use.
Convenience and practicality are key influencers here, but the technology itself is also an important consideration. Developers are continually making changes to ensure professionals and the public get the most out of the telehealth experience.
We’re going to dive a little deeper into the tech behind modern telehealth care. How is it making a significant difference to the quality and practicality of medical services?
Some of the most important changes in the telehealth ecosystem have been improvements to the core equipment. On the most basic level, virtual appointments are an effective tool because devices connecting patients and doctors are accessible. The fact that the cameras have seen a sharp rise in quality over the last decade has meant modern telehealth care is a more accurate and practical option for patients.
Even the most basic smartphones today are capable of taking high-resolution photos. This is invaluable to doctors and patients alike. Clarity of image is particularly vital when it comes to making accurate virtual assessments of visible symptoms, like dermatological issues.
While professionals don’t feel this can necessarily replace full-body, in-person assessments, it can certainly help initial investigations and treatment follow-ups. The majority of patients today have devices capable of producing the minimum resolution of 800×600 pixels required for an accurate diagnosis.
High-quality images aren’t just important for doctors’ diagnoses, either. They’re essential to making a meaningful connection between doctor and patient. If patients find it difficult to see their medical professional on-screen, this may impact the trust they place in a provider.
Similarly, poor image quality can affect a doctor’s ability to spot non-verbal behavior in their patients that may affect a diagnosis. As cameras continue to improve, they become a better tool for developing the doctor-patient relationship.
Reliable Telehealth Platforms
One of the mistakes patients often make about telehealth is that they’ll just be utilizing a common conferencing app like Skype or Zoom. In reality, a dedicated telehealth platform is a key piece of technology behind modern remote care. These function much like any other app that patients and doctors would have on their smartphones or laptops. These are designed to provide patients with the best access to everything they need for virtual appointments.
As the adoption of telehealth has grown, much of the focus for the improvement of these platforms has been geared toward user-friendliness. After all, telehealth isn’t an effective alternative to traditional appointments if neither party can utilize it effectively. Therefore, current platforms are developed to ensure easy navigation through secure log-in screens, live connections between medical professionals, and file sharing. While some guidance is often given, the intention is to utilize the software with a minimum of training.
There’s no single standardized format for telehealth platforms at present. In fact, as the range of services that can be performed virtually grows, providers are increasingly investing in proprietary platform development. This makes a certain amount of sense, as the tools doctors may require for virtual gynecological appointments may not be the same as those for addiction recovery sessions. It also helps ensure patients have the most appropriate system to support their needs.
One of the primary concerns many patients have surrounding telehealth is the potential for security breaches. Understandably, they want to make certain that neither the video feed of their appointments nor their data can be accessed by third parties. Doctors share this concern. Not only do they value the trust their patients place in them, but they also have legal obligations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). As such, it’s important to understand that bolstering security is a key aspect of modern telehealth care.
Telehealth platform developers and healthcare providers often collaborate on a range of security protocols. These are designed to reduce vulnerability to issues like ransomware and phishing attacks through both technology and staff training. In many cases, an information security program is created to identify specific risks and design the best practices for protecting data.
Indeed, confidentiality is the primary goal of such programs, with a commitment to maintaining the highest ethical standards of data handling. If patients or doctors are unclear about the level of protection telehealth services offer, it’s important to ask administrators or developers about the protocols in place.
From a technological standpoint, HIPAA requires devices medical professionals use support encryption. This means the data — especially live video feeds — being transmitted during the appointment is scrambled and cannot be viewed without the key to decode it. Many services also have multiple levels of encryption to further protect patients and doctors from breaches. These protocols are built into telehealth hosting platforms, any cloud services used, and the hard drives of any mobile devices professionals may use to view or store patient information.
As telehealth has seen greater adoption over the past few years, so too has the technology supporting it developed. Improvements in camera quality help to ensure more accurate diagnoses and better doctor-patient relationships. User-friendly and tailored telehealth platforms help to ensure both doctor and patient have the tools they need for the best remote experience.
Cybersecurity planning and encryption are also vital for protecting patient data and maintaining essential trust. Telehealth is one of the most valuable contributors to making healthcare accessible. It’s important to make certain the tools being used continue to be fit for purpose.