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The onset of COVID-19 is playing a transformative role in global healthcare delivery. Nowadays, people don’t run to their nearest clinic for minor ailments. Fear of infection has even made patients delay care, therapy, and procedures. 

The medical fraternity is accelerating its adoption of digital therapeutics or digital care to prevent, manage, and treat a wide range of physical, mental, and behavioural conditions – all to the widespread acceptance of the patients. Medical experts across the world agree that this rapid change is also very necessary. Why? And in what way would it change the way healthcare is delivered? Let’s understand. 

Welcome to the Era of Telemedicine

Studies published in JAMA Network Open point out that the onset of the Pandemic reduced in-person medical services to 23% in March 2020 and 52% in April 2020. On the other hand, telemedicine services skyrocketed to 4000% around the same time. Yes, you read that right! Such a growth trajectory might have been temporary, but it incontestably indicates the way the medical industry would function in the future. The need for a change was indeed felt for a long time, but the Pandemic has accelerated developments that would otherwise have taken years. 

The scope of digital care is huge, as it offers something for every rung of medical care. And it’s here to get better with the advances in both technology and medical sciences. It will be the best bet for people who are suffering from disabilities or the means to travel. Location-wise availability of physicians will no longer be a necessity. 

In-person care is here to stay, no doubt, but telemedicine takes away the compulsion for it while rendering doctors and patients a new way to deliver and experience care.  

Here’s a sneak preview of what telemedicine could offer to both doctors and patients:

The Mind First

Schools and colleges are indefinitely shut, work-from-home is poised to continue longer, loss of income, occupations, and the much needed community feeling has all played a part in making our minds overwhelmed, cranky, irate, and inadequate. It has wreaked havoc on the way of life we cherish.  

The world now realizes the importance of mental health services – be it for children in their budding days, students pursuing higher education, the employment sector, the unemployed, housewives who matter, parents, or the elderly community. Future employment packages may want employers to have coverage for digital mental health solutions, with reliable networks that provide teletherapy. 

While wellness programs such as gym memberships, live yoga sessions, and nutritional education were commonly practised in the past, the programs offered these days include live-streaming mental and physical fitness classes and app-based health coaching. Bangalore based Art of Living and Coimbatore’s Isha foundation have begun conducting online Breathing & Yoga programs, which they didn’t during the pre-COVID days.

Pre-existing Conditions and Specialized Care  

People with pre-existing conditions like diabetes or those who are pregnant face greater risks of being infected with the virus. Digital management could play a saving role here, by acting as a virtual health coach – welcome development when meeting with doctors seems to be a risky proposition. So, the next time, you don’t need to rush to a doctor to get your blood sugar or glucose levels checked, all you need is a smartphone. 

Consider These Cases:

  • In Botswana, a mobile enabled platform has helped its government to reduce response time to Malaria from four months to three minutes. 
  • In Mali, Delivery of prevention and awareness information through text message to pregnant young mothers has reduced perinatal and maternal mortality by 30%. 

 

Pain Management and Musculoskeletal Issues

Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions like chronic back pain, knee pain, hip pain, and tendonitis are all too common these days. But reportedly, about 80% of patients suffering from this do not receive evidence based care due to the heavy costs involved in treating it. Doctors fear that this could result in chronic pain, costly surgery, disability, and opioid addiction.  

To address this, models of digital MSK programs are being developed to include one-on-one sessions with physical therapists, individual-based health coaching, real-time feedback and tracking through sensor technology, etc.  Doctors can now access individual activity and participation outcomes over a range of areas, including communication, mobility, self-care and quality of life – all this in substantially less time.

“The benefits of VR therapy continued for me after the sessions ended. When pain or panic about pain began to set in, I found it drifts away rather than latching onto me like it used to.” – Seasoned Writer for Pain News Network 

The biggest challenge for the digital route here is convincing other patients like Pennington to rely less on pharmaceutical interventions and actually trust a digital tool to achieve a health outcome. The onus is on industry insiders and patient advocacy groups to educate patients on how it can improve the quality of life, especially for those struggling with chronic conditions like MSK. 

Virtual Reality for Stroke and Rehab

Rehabilitation facilitates neuroplasticity, i.e. the brain’s ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections.  This effectively means that the brain could recover from traumatic injuries and conditions as critical as stroke. However, the mindless and repetitive performance of tasks wouldn’t help the brain in forming any meaningful connections. But thankfully, the brain responds better when the task involves functional and meaningful goals.  Virtual Reality fulfils this need by delivering interactive contents in an immersive setting.

Market implementers have found that a combination of auditory and visual cues from a Virtual Reality avatar could improve outpatient physical therapy movement guidance and technique. It could lead to increased compliance and thereby, effectiveness. 

Lower compliance rates are often due to boredom and lack of confidence in movement accuracy, both of which are effectively tackled by Virtual Reality.

Empowering Patients & Carers 

The convergence of health and mobile devices, along with digital media, helps patients, carers, and healthcare professionals to enjoy easier access to information, and with it, improve the quality of both health care and social care. It helps them to have more control over their health due to the wide range of health and fitness apps that can provide critical health-based information. And the good news is that these apps and wearable devices are getting better and better due to the improvements in technology. Doctors can now manage their patients remotely using Virtual Reality and other similar platforms on their long course of treatment or therapy. 

Online patient communities are using social media platforms and apps to share experience with patients and carers. An example of the same is www.patientslikeme.com, a membership platform that collects data related to drug side effects, patient interactions, etc., with the consent of the patients. 

A Better Health System, a Better Future 

It’s all-too-obvious that the medical and mental health community is now facing bigger challenges during the Pandemic. But sometimes, the best lessons are learnt during the most difficult situations. 

The need for individual-based care is increasingly being felt and understood, and on a good note – many such were implemented during the last year. As we are seeing through this crisis, it is time to change the delivery care model by putting control in the hands of the individual, to make them feel empowered. Delegation of controls is super-important in a super-busy world.