Dr Kanav Kahol, CEO, DIVOC Health & PinkTech Designs shares an insight on how telemedicine labs can help improve quality, increase efficiency and reduce the scope of errors
The sudden outbreak of the pandemic has highlighted numerous snags and posed many challenges to the healthcare system. Initially, the trouble with global healthcare delivery led to widespread turbulence. Changes in the way that healthcare is delivered during the pandemic were needed to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE), reduce staff exposure to ill persons, and minimise the impact of an increasing number of cases on facilities. Though it is still challenging, the system has made better adjustments.
The system has had to adjust the way they deliver services to patients using innovative methods that do not rely on in-clinic services. Telemedicine is one such method that provides necessary care to patients while minimising the transmission risk of the virus to the provider and patient.
While the technology is not new, it has never experienced such widespread adoption. Under such circumstances when the general public is avoiding visiting hospitals, telemedicine is playing a significant role in ensuring care delivery for mild as well as chronic illnesses. Moreover, recent policy changes that reduced barriers to telehealth access to promote its use as a way to deliver acute, primary, chronic, and speciality care, is driving its growth. However, is the pace of innovation in care delivery alone sufficient to ensure the effectiveness of the healthcare system particularly during the pandemics?
Potential uses of telehealth
Telemedicine can facilitate public health mitigation strategies during pandemics by ensuring social distancing and safety of masses. These services are a safer option for providers and patients as they reduce potential infectious exposures and also, minimise the surge of patient demand on facilities. Telehealth is also a significant method to increase participation of vulnerable groups or those who do not have ready access to providers.
Furthermore, telehealth services can be used to:
- Provide training to providers through peer-to-peer professional medical consultations
- Screen patients for COVID-19 symptoms
- Identify COVID-19 patients who may need additional medical consultation
- Access specialists for chronic health conditions and mental and behavioural health management
- Monitor signs of certain chronic medical conditions like diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol and other remote assessments
- Deliver advance care planning to patients or caregivers to document preferences if a medical crisis occurs
- Engage in care management for patients who lack access to healthcare services
The telemedicine labs have really taken off recently. However, much of their potential is still unleveraged. In addition to other benefits, it can also identify future improvements, simply by arranging the data that flows through a laboratory daily, managing point of care (POC) devices, and handling inventory automatically.
Digital transformation of labs
Telemedicine is expanding the primary care services through virtual care facility, which is subsequently increasing the trend of remote and virtual doctor’s visits. But how should clinical laboratories prepare for fulfilling doctors’ lab test orders in ways consistent with the increasing number of test prescriptions?
The rise of telehealth services is driven by innovations in digital technology. As more patients are opting out of traditional primary care visits that are too far away or take too much time, the healthcare sector is responding by making services such as pathology and clinical laboratory easily accessible for patients through urgent care clinics and retail settings.
The clinical laboratories are undergoing numerous innovations to ensure that they match the pace of rapid transformation in medical science. Services like touchless inventory control and auto validation of diagnosis are becoming popular to deliver high standards. As a result, lab staff can focus on the complexity of testing options thereby accelerating the process of diagnosis and treatment.
Accenture’ study, Digital Transformation in the Lab, made some interesting revelations regarding how life sciences companies are applying digital to quality control labs. It estimated that about 60 per cent of companies are deploying digital, some of them either piloting or scaling up or those who already have digital technologies in widespread use.
What is foreseen?
Advancements in technology continue to improve specimen collection techniques so that they minimally interfere. Health companies are gradually adding a layer to their virtual visits with the integration of clinical laboratory services such as home testing which is redefining laboratories. This is a decentralised service where patients enter test results into shared data monitoring systems or provide them manually. These home testing kits are over-the-counter diagnostic and relatively inexpensive.
Considering the pace of developments, it is expected that telemedicine labs are all set to enable patients to take a more active role in their own care by integrating at home testing into their medical regime and add important information to their medical records through digitally linked hand-held devices designed for home use. However, it is too early to predict how the advancements in laboratories will affect sophisticated hospital and independent laboratories, especially in light of the growing number of complex tests and epidemics.
Summing it all up
The sudden outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has signalled the need to revive the healthcare system, make it digitally equipped along with improving the functionality and efficiency of clinical laboratories. It has fastened the technological revolution of healthcare services including pathology, targeted towards improving quality, increasing efficiency and reducing the scope of errors. The pace is right to improve the world’s health through compassionate innovation and care.