April 28, 2022
Telemedicine is actively transforming the healthcare system and reshaping the ways in which care is delivered.
Catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the rapid expansion of telehealth is now seen as a way to break down a number of barriers — including rural healthcare access and the availability of specialists. Alongside it, the rise of wearables and IoT devices raises the possibility to offer continuous, remote monitoring to personalize care.
“Telehealth has the potential to improve the quality of healthcare while simultaneously making it more accessible to a broader audience. Furthermore, it has the potential of improving the efficiency, coordination and accessibility of healthcare,” said IEEE Member Sukanya Mandal. “Wearables have not only evolved in form factor but also in the amount of information they can collect, store and process. These interconnected sensory medical devices generate a heavy load of real-time patient data that can streamline healthcare delivery, provide personalized care, introduce efficiency in treatment planning, enhance health outcomes and improve the overall quality of patient care.”
The Need for Enhanced Connectivity
Quality broadband connectivity is a critical component of telemedicine access and its level of accessibility is increasingly seen as a social determinant of health. In the U.S., for example, counties with quality broadband access tend to have lower rates of diabetes than those without, even when controlling for factors like age and income.
“Seamless connectivity will help in sending across real-time information about patient health thereby improving the accuracy of diagnosis and further consultation,” said Mandal.
Modernizing digital infrastructures to support 5G and enhanced connectivity will be the key to making access to telemedicine more widely available. Those in underserved communities who may live far away from healthcare providers can be afforded the opportunity to receive higher quality care much more easily.
“Having access to telemedicine, whether it’s via cellular networks or home internet, increases the probability of treatment compliance which leads to better healthcare outcomes,” said IEEE Member Carmen Fontana.
Wearables For Remote Patient Monitoring
Wearable technology is continuously evolving and has established itself as an effective way to seamlessly collect in-depth patient data in real-time. Wearables are integral to remote patient monitoring and improving patient outcomes as they empower providers to make more accurate and informed decisions.
Wearables and mobiles are already providing substantial amounts of data at the population level. “As an example, smartphone apps have been used to track close contacts and to anticipate potential hot-spots for large scale transmission,” said IEEE Fellow Ravinder Dahiya.
As technology progresses, wearable technology will continue to be further integrated into telemedicine to better assist providers and their patients.
“The next generation of AI capabilities will allow even more health data to be integrated into wearables and mobile applications, assisting in the detection of patterns that may indicate potential concerns. Additionally, with further technological maturity, we may see more advanced IoT telemedicine solutions that may use real-time data to give better remote care and assist in completing some basic medical procedures from a distance. This could save time, money and unnecessary hassles,” Mandal said.
The Future of Telemedicine
The integration of wearables and 5G connectivity are essential to the continued growth of telemedicine and the rapid evolution of the ecosystem of connected health tools.
“These technologies are likely to make healthcare systems more efficient and improve the reach of healthcare systems to remote and inaccessible areas all over the world,” said IEEE Fellow Ravinder Dahiya. “They will also improve the quality of life of clinicians by reducing their unnecessary workload.”
The future of 5G is being written every day. IEEE members volunteer their time guiding the development of key technologies to encourage interoperability and predictability. If you’d like to learn more, check out these areas of future research.