By Weera Areeratanasak, Managing Director, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Netapp
Receiving medical help no longer needs to be confined to the doctor’s office, or at least it shouldn’t have to be in the first place.
Access to healthcare facilities, especially if one does not live within walking distance of a decent-sized town, can be a distressing challenge. In many places, access to the right type of medical centre, or indeed any sort of medical facilities, is restricted to central, well-populated urban areas. It is common to discover that a specialist who can treat a specific condition is often located in a town far away from the sub-urban area where you reside in.
Even if you manage to find one that meets your needs, securing an appointment does not necessarily guarantee prompt treatment – delays can happen due to availability or access. Taking an example of rehabilitation for a knee injury, you may need to consult at the very least two specialists, a physiotherapist and an orthopaedic specialist, for your condition. Factoring out interaction with other staff, such as nurses, pharmacists et al. for the sake of simplifying the situational analogy, purely working out a suitable schedule to coordinate with multiple specialists and health service providers could mean an extended slowdown in your recovery, or worse, a permanent negative impact of your knee condition due to the lack of immediate medical attention.
The synergy of telecommunications and healthcare in recent years has heralded a new era for healthcare service providers to deliver their service and information more efficiently and in a significantly more accessible way. ‘Telehealth’, as it is often known as, is an important trend that we will see more of in the next few years. It is a convenient and impactful way for patients who do not have easy access to full-fledged facilities, or for patients with disabilities or limitations in mobility.
The forecast for the global telehealth market is expected to exceed US$30 billion by 2020, and this trend is set to accelerate rapidly. Gone are the days where you need to take time off work and daily life to book an appointment, travel to and fro multiple healthcare facilities, and then make repeated trips for follow-up and monitoring sessions.
Telehealth is not just about communicating with patients over a conference call – it represents an opportunity for healthcare providers to care for and educate their patients without comprising time and cost. Patients, too, benefit from the seamless nature of the telehealth concept without losing the human touch that healthcare professionals bring. Some telehealth services are conducted by qualified carers or HCPs (Health Care Professionals), who personally walk through procedures with the patient.
In the medical profession, it is of utmost gravity that doctors and healthcare providers have the most up-to-date and extensive data on hand that will enable them to give the most accurate and efficient diagnosis without having to subject patients to repeated physical examinations or delayed treatment. A very important aspect of telehealth is the storage and sharing of data, such as patient records, diagnostic tests and their health history, ie. X-rays, MRI scans, etc, which can be swiftly and securely transmitted through an electronic communication system to a HCP – enabling them to make an almost-instant diagnosis instead of the time-consuming “wait-for-the-lab-results” practice of yore.
Telehealth is not just limited to one-off diagnostic tests or consultations either. The very same medical data can also come from sensors that continuously collect a patient’s vitals, like an electrocardiogram (EKG) or a heart rate monitor, for example. Data can be virtually collected and monitored by HCPs who can continue to provide care even if the patient has been discharged from the hospital or is no longer in the same state or country as the treatment centre. The thorough and boundary transcending feature of telehealth certainly empowers medical professionals to consistently deliver high quality medical services and assures patients that they are on a supervised track to full recovery.
Within the last decade, the state of medicine made more advancements than ever. Indeed people are living longer and infant mortality rates have dropped drastically year on year. However, this means that there is now a greater demand on the healthcare system and for medical providers to have better data and services for their patients. Yet, while there is profound interest and funding towards improving the state of healthcare worldwide, this does not always translate to more HCPs in the system. For people living in rural areas it is already a harrowing affair trying to locate a medical facility, let alone a medical professional who has the specific qualifications and capacity to treat them.
It may all sound like a game of postal code lottery. And this is precisely what healthcare should not be.
To overcome this challenge, it is of foremost necessity to implement a comprehensive system to support telehealth. There needs to be data centres that are connected to each other and allow the sharing of information to be efficient with zero disruption. The country’s infrastructure must also be able to support the inter- and intra-connected system. This includes upgrading rural areas where infrastructure to transmit data may be weak, and renewing archaic and unreliable medical resources.
Finally, with NetApp’s Data Fabric tying the loose ends together, healthcare providers can transmit data such as intricate of visual or audio medical records, or even permissibly recorded conversations in therapy sessions without needing to worry about network flow, latency, scalability or other forms of IT failure. You can connect and scale quickly and seamlessly from remote locations to medical centres, avoiding downtime and in a cost efficient manner.
By bringing healthcare directly to patients through data and technology, it not only works to the advantage of patients but also benefits HCPs and the entire healthcare landscape. The mutual trust between patients and HCPs will also trend upwards – a win-win for all! Telehealth is truly a game changer in the medical industry and has refreshingly advanced the healthcare profession globally.