Telehealth adoption has accelerated during the pandemic as clinics and hospitals had to turn away non-essential consultations to mitigate the risk of infections, and reduce the burden on the healthcare workforce.
by Tim Morris
Globally, providers are turning to alternative methods of providing care to keep patients safe at home. In China, the online medical service market is expected to reach 59 million users by the end of 2020 and it is expected to grow over 20 times more by 2026.1 Digital health platforms in Singapore, Indonesia and Australia have reported over 147 percent, 39 percent and 40 percent surge in activity at the height of the pandemic respectively.2 Essentially, COVID-19 has forced healthcare professionals to adopt immediate solutions to provide care for patients in the safest manner.
Challenges of Telehealth
With the rapid adoption of such digital health technologies, it has brought about challenges to both providers and patients, who are embracing this rapid digital transformation. Firstly, the lowering the quality of care provided via telehealth consultations.3 Telephone and video consultations remove many of the visible cues that a clinician can find during a physical examination. This is exacerbated by the lack of data for care continuity, which has the potential to introduce risk as health records may not be truly reflective of the patient’s holistic health history.
Secondly, concerns of impersonal patient experience. It is often assumed that communicating via a screen will result in a lack of human connection and lead to issues with patient engagement and satisfaction. Other concerns would include digital literacy amongst the older population as well as the reimbursement and privacy concerns. These are by and large regulatory changes that need to be accounted for.
As we move into the new reality of life with telehealth technologies, what we as providers can do is to create a degree of connection and engagement with patients; foster a level of patient understanding and satisfaction; and most importantly ensure that diagnosis provided and treatment prescribed is the same standard of care as an in-person visit.
For this to happen, the healthcare system needs to embrace sustainable models of care. It will require a system level design thinking that simultaneously accounts for three key dimensions – data flow, clinical workflow and decision flow to ensure that the care process via telehealth is driven by knowledge.
Data interoperability and integration with existing medical systems
Key to successful consultation is the availability of quality, integrated data that can be easily accessed by clinicians in making confident decision regarding patients’ health. With telehealth, clinical care is increasingly delivered outside of the hospital setting, the multi-disciplinary care process is now delivered by clinicians and organizations, across geography and time zones thus adding to the complexity. The role of capturing accurate data is more crucial than ever to enable clinicians to make the best decisions regarding care and treatment along the clinical care workflow.
There is tremendous value for an interoperable electronic health record (EHR) system to capture and store vitals from the hospital and home setting and make it easily accessible to everyone in the care continuum. It will provide clinicians with a consistent understanding of the patient’s health regardless of care setting.
Beyond that, it is also time we plan for the evolution of the EHR system to encompass knowledge empowered technologies. With such a system, healthcare providers can easily access the latest evidence-based guidelines at the point of care for every teleconsultation from anywhere and maintain the same standards of care as an in-person visit. This can be achieved by optimizing the flow of current and credible evidence-based knowledge to enhance data flow, empower the decision flow and complement the clinician workflow.
Optimizing patient engagement
According to a Bain & Company report,4 nearly 50 percent of patients in Asia Pacific said that they expect to use digital health tools in the next five years. Government and insurers are seeing greater acceptance and adoption of telehealth during this pandemic, and are expanding reimbursement for teleconsultation to make it attractive for healthcare professionals. Governments like India have also recently passed guidelines around telemedicine.5
Yet, we must also recognize that healthcare is very much a human discipline and patient engagement is key to optimal patient outcomes. The future of telehealth technologies will need to integrate with the latest knowledge-based content and include interactive patient education elements to support patients’ understanding of their health condition. Elsevier’s Interactive Patient Education solution helps patients understand the diagnoses, treatments, medications, lifestyle modifications in an easy-to-understand format. With access to the same, trusted content used by the clinicians, it encourages patients to be active participants in managing their health thus, improving patient engagement.
Clinicians can also tap on interactive formats such as 3D visualization tools to simplify complicated medical terminology and procedures via video consultation. Such tools leverage compelling visuals to improve patient understanding of the treatment process and further enhance the telehealth experience of the patient.
The COVID-19 pandemic has expediated the digitalization of healthcare systems and compressed the timeline for the adoption of telehealth technologies from decades to months. For this digital care model to be sustainable in the long run, it is ever more pressing we overcome the challenges to effectively and deliver care in a safe and patient-centric manner. This needs to be led by a knowledge-driven care model, which clinicians prioritize, diagnose and prescribe treatments via telehealth tools to support positive patient outcomes. At the same time, patients can expect a level of consistent care that aligns with the best practice standards received during an in-patient visit, delivered via an optimized consumer-centred experience that is efficient, and cost-effective.
- Kitty Lee and Matt Zafra. (April 29, 2020) COVID-19 Makes Digital Care the Norm in China. Retrieved from:
- Vikram Kapur and Alex Boulton. (April 27, 2020) COVID-19 Accelerates the Adoption of Telemedicine in Asia-Pacific Countries. Retrieved from:
- Becker’s Health IT. (February 2, 2015) Patient’s Top 8 Telemedicine Concerns, Benefits. Retrieved from:
- Bain and Company. (2020) Asia-Pacific Front Line of Healthcare Report. Retrieved from:
- Indian Medical Council. (March 25, 2020) Telemedicine Practice Guidelines. Retrieved from: https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/Telemedicine.pdf
About the Author
Tim Morris is the Commercial Portfolio and Partnership Director at Elsevier, supporting Clinical Decision Support & Hospital Workflow Solutions across the EMEA/LA/AP regions. He has nearly 30 years of healthcare experience, from delivering care as a nurse in a London A&E Department, research and management within the NHS, to direct sales and product development with a range of public and private health companies.
His prior positions involve:
- Technical development for a Health Informatics companies, where he was an expert for international opportunities for sales and partnerships
- Managing Director for a healthcare company where he ensured effective corporate governance
- Clinical Product Director for a growing supplier of IT solutions across NHS, private, third-sector and local government across multiple nations.
Tim Morris is an experienced board member with international exposure, and has displayed his well-established experience of decision support and knowledge management systems during his 4 years at Elsevier working on Clinical Decision Support Solutions. He has been working at Elsevier since 2015.
Tim Morris obtained his BSc in Health Services from the University of Surrey, following which he obtained a Pragmatic Marketing’s Focus certification.