Author: Christian Schuhmacher – CEO King’s College Hospital London in Dubai
In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. In many countries including the UAE, a stay at home order was implemented and a big number of industries were affected as a result, including the healthcare industry. However, this restriction of movement saw a need to adopt new ways of service delivery or expand the existing but less-used service lines.
Since the onset of COVID-19, the healthcare industry, which is at the axis of the pandemic, experienced a drop in elective surgeries, medical tourism and outpatient department footfall among others. This drop saw an exponential boom in telemedicine, which is an established health-tech service line but one that is not very widespread or commonly utilized by most healthcare facilities. Healthcare providers have since adopted and deployed this model of service delivery to patients, and it seems that as long as COVID-19 is still around, tele-health’s popularity will continue to rise.
The question that begs to be answered is, will this surge in tele-consultations and telemedicine be sustainable post COVID-19 pandemic or will it retreat into obscurity only to appear when the need arises? Well, not only can it be sustained, but it can be a game-changer in patient engagement. After all, telemedicine was here before COVID-19, and it’s here to stay, only this time it is being boosted by the pandemic.
Telemedicine Has Been Around for Decades
According to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), Telemedicine is the remote delivery of health care services and clinical information using telecommunications technology. This includes a wide array of clinical services using internet, wireless, satellite and telephone media. And in reference to research, it has been around for more than 40 years, with radiology being one of the first specialties to fully embrace it back in the 1980s. So, if tele-health worked then, why can’t it work post COVID-19, considering todays ease of access to the information superhighway?
Integration of Telehealth into Other Services
At King’s in Dubai, telemedicine has become an integral service line, and it is available for all specialties. After the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue investing, upgrading and using advanced telemedicine solutions, at least for no-emergency and non-life-threatening cases. Patients will continue to have access to reliable medical care from diagnostics and treatment to online prescriptions from the comfort of their home, and at their convenience.
This means that the patient will not need to have an on-site clinical visit if it’s not necessary. In the long run, this can be a win-win for both the patient and the healthcare facility in terms of saving time and overhead expenses. The patient will have the choice on how to interact with his Doctor or other clinical staff. Often a physical exam is needed. However, for follow-up visits e.g. in Endocrinology, the patient may well choose to conduct the consultation from the comfort of his home. Healthcare providers are opening up their channels on how patients can avail our services. The pandemic boosted the tele-consult as it helps patients to stay-at-home.
Home Healthcare & Integrated Value Chain of Delivery of Services
As promising as it sounds, tele-health on its own may not be enough and for it to thrive, it has to be integrated into other services like home healthcare, where the physician goes to the patient’s home to provide the needed medical services including routine checkups, administering medication and collection of medical samples for diagnostic purposes. Fully integrated patient records allows clinicians to serve the patients best, no matter whether they present physically or remotely. Home delivery of prescribed medications adds to the safety and convenience for the patients.
More Personalized and Quality Care
Over the years, studies have indicated more patient satisfaction with tele-health services. Although it might appear tele-health creates a distance/barrier when it comes to patient-doctor relationship, these studies have shown that it actually improves this relationship, with high degrees of satisfaction, especially as it gives patients fast and seamless access to their trusted clinician.
An Integral Part of the Healthcare System
While tele-health is a good addition to other healthcare services in the current COVID-19 situation, it is only as good if it is integrated within the whole healthcare service plan. If this is effectively implemented, in the foreseeable future we will see people actually opting for tele-health as opposed to going to the doctor’s office, which will result in a positive shift on how convenient health care is given and received in the long term.