Telehealth refers to the growing number of digital and remote methods for facilitating medical treatment, diagnosis, training, and education. In 2019, the global telehealth market was worth $61.4 billion. Following the COVID-19 outbreak, which rapidly increased worldwide demand for virtual consultations, the telehealth market is now ballooning at a compounded rate of 25%. And if current trends continue over the next few years, it will be worth $559.52 billion by 2027.
There’s no question that telehealth is reshaping the planet’s health industries. And many of these changes are happening in North America. For example, researchers from the University of Manitoba are developing telehealth infrastructure to optimize homes for senior living and care in Canada. Funded by a $50,000 grant, the university’s prototype Smart Suite is a system comprised of motion sensors, smart floor mats, radar, and another tech to assist care providers in remote patient monitoring. “If we keep people at home, they can live independently for as much time as possible, and we will avoid sending them inappropriately to long-term care facilities,” explains University of Manitoba assistant professor Dr. Amine Choukou.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., nurses are increasingly being trained to operate remotely as part of their education. Famous for its healthcare and sciences degrees, the University of New England’s virtual reality simulation program provides nurses-in-training with a safe, wholly immersive, and remotely accessible digital environment for training in various healthcare situations. This current push for remote training has been integral to training new nurses amid the current pandemic-driven shortage. In fact, it can be observed not just in established traditional universities but in long-standing online universities as well. Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Maryville University’s RN to BSN online program is a completely remote course aimed at training practicing nurses to fill in-demand specialist roles in hospitals, nursing homes, research labs, communities, schools, private practices, homes, and a variety of other healthcare settings. These telehealth-driven developments in healthcare training are particularly crucial today, as the demand for specialist nurses in the U.S. is expected to increase by 7% until 2029.
Elsewhere in the world, telehealth is helping solve local healthcare industry problems in other ways. In Pakistan, where patient numbers have soared ten-fold during the pandemic, tens of thousands of female doctors sit at home. This results from the ‘doctor bride phenomenon in which Pakistani daughters are encouraged to take medicine to improve marriage prospects. Recognizing the sheer waste of medical expertise, entrepreneur Sara Saeed Khurram developed a telehealth platform and social enterprise called Sehat Kahani. In a nutshell, it’s designed to connect these female doctors to the rural patients who need them the most. Sehat Kahani has established 35 rural telehealth clinics operated by nurses remotely guided by doctors – 60% of women. Accessible for a small fee, the platform can schedule these in-person and remotely-assisted nurse visits or contact doctors directly. This model has been beneficial to the local communities, as Khurram explains that “Half the population in Pakistan – 100 million people – never get to see a doctor in their lifetime.”
Meanwhile, in Europe, digital health leaders are setting their sights on how artificial intelligence (AI) can improve telehealth. This is in response to the increasing shift from volume-based to value-based care. Rather than raising the patient volume, value-based care shifts the focus towards improving tech-driven healthcare interventions’ efficiency and long-term efficacy. This entails predicting patient outcomes, which is made possible by AI algorithms that can efficiently crunch the rapidly rising amounts of telehealth-driven data in the world.
This is just the tip of the global telehealth iceberg. As the era of Health 4.0 ushers in even more telehealth-driven advances, the global health industry will continue to transform in different ways.
Written by: Dana Warsaw