The Face of Tomorrow’s Digital Healthcare

Imagine yourself ten years from now, when you wake up feeling under the weather. You log into your healthcare portal and the AI-driven assistant connects to your smart watch and notes your symptoms. In moments, this assistant has found a list of healthcare providers in your insurance network that can see you today, in-person or through video. That very afternoon, your prescription is automatically filled out and delivered to your doorstep by a licensed courier service. Any bills involved, along with your updated medical record, are viewable through the secure healthcare portal.

The Face of Tomorrow’s Digital Healthcare
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That could be a welcome tomorrow, because the medical care of today looks quite different. A lot of responsibility is placed on the patient to find and arrange for health services. You may need to determine who you’ll need to see, check if they accept your insurance, get time off from work or find an urgent care locally that’s open late, and then arrange transport to get there.

Once you've had your visit, you need to put the support in place to recover at home, perhaps have a prescription filled in at a distant pharmacy, and then juggle medical bills coming in from a dozen providers over a period of months.

This may sound like normal life, but it can also be a pretty tall order for some people, especially those dealing with physical and mental health issues. Thankfully, things are changing for the better. Digital and hybrid healthcare has surged in popularity due to the Covid-19 crisis. How is medical care adapting, and what could it look like in the next few years?

Smart Tech for Health-Conscious Consumers

One of the big drivers of changing healthcare is the rise of health-related tech. Every year, this tech gets more sophisticated, more affordable, and more user-friendly - some of the most friendly are the screening medical apps. These range from the free app hearWHO, developed by the World Health Organization to screen for hearing loss, to digital checklists that help concerned parents screen for possible childhood Autism or ADHD.

Right now these apps have fairly limited use. They can indicate if someone needs further evaluation, and they may help people organize their concerns before a medical visit. But in the near future, these apps should be able to integrate directly into a patient’s medical record and connect to remote smart tech (for example, sleep apnea screeners that analyze data from sleep quality monitors). They fall easily into use for outreach initiatives to bring better health to the community.

On a similar front, Silicon Valley and even consumer big stores are all interested in offering healthcare more convenience, and multiple tech companies are developing AI-powered virtual assistants for the healthcare field. Some of these are upgraded versions of the wearable monitoring systems and smart-phone assistants of today, answering basic health questions and directing you toward services. Others have user-friendly interfaces that assist you in looking for specialist availability and book or move appointments. Some medical AI can even help doctors look for concerning patterns in X-rays or flag potential medication interactions.

All of these AI applications could integrate with other tech like smart watches or heartbeat monitors. This will let them give better tailored advice to patients and medical personnel. And AI may become sophisticated enough to stand in for humans in some telemedicine applications such as skin cancer screenings or cognitive rehabilitation exercises.

Telemedicine and Patient Records

Telemedicine is the delivery of health care by electronic means, often through phone calls and video. It’s increasingly being adopted by health service providers to provide care without requiring an in-person visit.

This growth is propelled by demand from patients and medical professionals, accelerated by increasing support from insurance companies. In the face of the pandemic, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services removed geographic restrictions and increased reimbursement for telehealth services.

Support from patients, professionals, businesses, and the government itself will help telemedicine continue to grow in scope. Some areas that are a natural fit include rehabilitation services and mental health care. These services are in very high demand, but they’re also stretched thin, especially in rural parts of the country and in economically disadvantaged areas. The huge demographic trend in America of aging boomers wanting to age in place rather than live in a facility is also driving this growth.

Portals

Finally, let’s talk about patient healthcare portals. All healthcare systems are held to the standards of federal information privacy acts (most notably HIPAA), but they also need to contend with state laws as well. These can vary wildly, and complicate transferring medical information between facilities and between states. Meanwhile, not every medical facility has the computer infrastructure to support a convenient healthcare portal. Yet.

Patient information that’s kept secure but is accessible in digital form isn’t just highly convenient for the patient. It can also make all the difference for medical staff trying to deliver quality and timely care. This is why healthcare facilities are racing to upgrade their old systems into new ones.

Programmers are also designing portals that shield patient data with enhanced encryption. One day, these systems will integrate with each other in a state-wide or country-wide network. Those portals will be convenient, secure, and accessible on multiple devices. In fact, multi-device interoperability is a current focus of the FDA in digital health innovation.

Tomorrow is Almost Here

Much of the tech and infrastructure for the healthcare of tomorrow is already here, scattered around as test programs and app betas. Telemedicine and distributed healthcare are filling an urgent need among patients for flexibility and convenience, and the industry is rising to this challenge.

The biggest difference between the healthcare of today and tomorrow is going to be the user experience. In the future, these scattered puzzle pieces will fit together into one seamless user experience. From rural areas to sprawling cities, healthcare will be accessible with both in-person and virtual services.

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