The way we provide healthcare is changing rapidly in light of the coronavirus pandemic. In a matter of weeks, healthcare institutions had to come up with an alternative way to provide essential services, protecting both staff and patients from the novel coronavirus.
These rapid transformations would not be possible without telecommunications, making it clear these services are essential to the provision of high-quality healthcare.
In this article, we’ll explore the role of telecommunications in healthcare in more detail, particularly the lessons we can learn from the current pandemic.
What is telecommunication?
Telecommunication refers to any communication that happens, using technology, at a distance. This communication includes telephone calls, videoconferencing, and other forms of electronic and digital communications.
In healthcare, the use of telecommunications is typically referred to as telehealth or telemedicine. These terms apply to the provision of distance healthcare using various forms of communication.
Why is telecommunication necessary in healthcare?
Telehealth and telemedicine aren’t new concepts; they’ve been around for several years. In the simplest form, telehealth may take the form of a telephone consultation (e.g., if a patient can’t attend their medical practice in person).
In recent years, the field of digital health has been evolving at a rapid pace, and, in some settings, patients can now receive care and medical advice using mobile and web-based applications. It is also possible to monitor people in their homes, using telehealth devices.
This use of telecommunications technology in healthcare is crucial for several reasons. For example, people living in rural areas often have poor access to healthcare. Telecommunications improve their access to services, as many healthcare providers can conduct many appointments using videoconferencing software.
This type of consultation also extends to specialist care, improving access to experts in rare diseases.
How has the pandemic impacted the use of telecommunications in healthcare?
While telehealth isn’t a new invention, the pandemic has thrust its use into the limelight. To prevent the spread of the virus, many healthcare settings are canceling routine appointments and minimizing people attending in person.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) actively recommends healthcare providers use telehealth to expand the provision of essential services during the coronavirus outbreak. Their guidance states:
“Telehealth services can facilitate public health mitigation strategies during this pandemic by increasing social distancing. These services can be a safer option for HCP and patients by reducing potential infectious exposures. They can reduce the strain on healthcare systems by minimizing the surge of patient demand on facilities and reduce the use of PPE by healthcare providers.”
In other words, telecommunications mean people are still able to receive the care they need while ensuring the risk of transmission is minimal. Currently, this is likely to apply to all aspects of care — from the family physicians to mental health.
What is the future of telecommunications in healthcare?
The future of telehealth is unclear. Before the pandemic, telemedicine’s use was relatively rare, although the AMA Digital Health Research report noted an upward trend earlier in the year. The most substantial increase was the use of tele-visits, which doubled between 2016 and 2019.
It will be interesting to see how this trend continues throughout the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. One of the critical lessons we’ve learned is that it is possible to provide high-quality healthcare remotely, thanks to advances in telecommunications technology.
But — a word of warning — telehealth is only as good as the technology used to build it. To ensure we continue to provide the same levels of care, whether we’re amid a pandemic or not, we must ensure all telehealth solutions are built on strong foundations.