The Future of Health Tech: Introducing Telehealth

Thank you Providence St. Joseph Health for sponsoring this post and for making technologies like this one a reality!

Let’s talk about the Health Tech space, in particular about the innovations that are happening when it comes to healthcare accessibility.  

Those of us who live in cities don’t understand the luxury that we experience in having healthcare services available to us when we need them. Yes, you might not be able to walk to a hospital from your home, but even a 30-minute drive can’t compare with what some of the people that live in rural areas have to go through to access healthcare. 

Some people need to travel hours if not days to get medical assistance, which means that there are huge barriers for people who live in rural areas to get medical help when they need it. These barriers may include:

  • Cost of travel
  • Time that it takes to travel
  • Having to take time off work
  • Lack of a reliable transportation system

And what if you need urgent help?

Photo by Nigel Tadyanehondo on Unsplash

This is where technologies like Telehealth come in! Using this technology, Providence St. Joseph Health is making specialized medical assistance accessible for people who live in rural areas. They have over 10 years of experience in this field and provide over 40 specialized services with their Telehealth technologies, including Telestroke. When stroke strikes, every minute’s delay of treatment counts, and PSJH Telestroke connects patients to experts when timing is critical.

Telehealth divides its services into 3 core categories: Telepsychiatry, Teleneurology and Telehospitalist. They currently have over 500 participating caregivers in their network and over 1,500 trained Telepresenters. In 2018 alone, they’ve had over 39,000 virtual encounters with patients. 

As you can see, this is a very powerful technology and it’s already changing so many lives! So, to find out more about Telehealth and about its potential impact on the health industry, I have interviewed Dr. Todd Czartoski, who’s the Chief Executive at Telehealth and Chief Medical Technology Officer for Providence St. Joseph Health.

Here’s our interview:

If you’re more of a YouTube kind of person, scroll down to watch our interview!

1. What is Telehealth and Telestroke? What do they do and how do they work?

Dr. Czartoski:

Telehealth is sort of a broad category. People define it in different ways. At Providence St. Joseph Health, we define it as digitally enabled visits and virtual visits using technology to see patients face-to-face on camera. Kind of like what we’re doing right now, only we have to do it and make sure that it’s HIPAA compliant and secure and safe and all of those things since we’re delivering healthcare that way.

2. What benefits does this technology have for patients and what problems does it solve?

Dr. Czartoski:

Access is a big problem. You know, we have a large shortage of providers, especially physicians, in the U.S. And particularly in some rural areas and underserved areas, we just don’t have access to specialists. And so when you asked about Telestroke, that’s one of the areas that we’ve invested a lot in, and we’ve grown a Telestroke network that allows us to take specialists, in particular, stroke specialists or vascular neurologist, and beam them into over a hundred sites, 24 hours a day. And they can respond very quickly and talk to the ER physician, assess the patient who seems to be having stroke-like symptoms, and, when appropriate, give clot-busting medicines to help stop the stroke and help the patient recover.

3. What impact do you think technologies like Telehealth and Telestroke will have for the healthcare industry?

Dr. Czartoski:

I think in terms of the digital revolution and moving more towards digital solutions, healthcare is clearly – I think, there’s not much debate about this – clearly behind the airline industry and banking and pretty much almost every other type of industry that has been transformed by our tablets, smartphones, the Internet, texting, AI and machine learning. So, healthcare is kind of just getting started on that journey. And I think there’s a variety of reasons why it’s taken us longer. I think providers are resistant to change. I think that what we’ve seen is that patients and consumers are driving it much more. They’re the ones that are used to using their device for basically everything and they’re demanding that for healthcare, too. And so that’s a big driving force.

Other limitations or challenges are around reimbursement and regulations. Our health care system wasn’t built for this type of technology, and the technology has moved much faster than I would say our laws and regulations have been able to keep up with. And so the alignment of that, I think, will allow us to do even more. And again, the way we look at it is: if we’re going to stand up a new service or new product that uses technology or technology-enabled care delivery, we first look whether it is safe. Can this be done safely? Does it add quality? Is it a high-quality service. And does it provide at least as good of care as you could get in person, if not better?

And then is there a financial impact to it? Can we afford to do it? Because sometimes you add technology and it just adds cost. And in our country, we’re spending a lot of money, $3.3 trillion, on healthcare. And so hopefully, technology can help lower that cost and make care more efficient. And then finally, you have to get buy-in from the providers themselves. The physicians and allied health professionals who are going to be using it have to really believe in it and want to do it, because it’s different than how we were trained in medical school up to date. We really haven’t had a lot of training in this space and that’s another area we’ll probably need to change if we really want to see wide-scale adoption.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

4. In your opinion, what is the future of Health Tech? What would it look like in a few years’ time or, I don’t know, 50 years’ time? What are your predictions?

Dr. Czartoski:

Well, in a few years, I think we’ll continue to see increased uptake of adoption of virtual visits and Telehealth and Telemedicine. We’ve seen doubling of our visits year over year for the last several years. And so I think that trend will continue. I think you’ll see more remote care, more home monitoring, moving care out of hospitals and facilities into the home or into alternative care settings. I think that’s a big trend that we’re seeing right now. And again, a lot of that’s driven by cost. It’s very expensive to be in the hospital. And so trying to find alternative ways of caring for our population and doing so in a cost-effective way, but also in a safe way. And then people talk a lot about AI and I do think that that will play a role.

My personal opinion is that in the immediate future, the near term, that role will largely be driving efficiencies of processes. It’s not going to replace doctors, initially. It may never ultimately replace doctors, but it’s going to be a tool that hopefully allows providers to provide care more efficiently and augment what they know and what their experience is – just because there’s so much out there and it’s impossible for one physician to know everything. And so it is kind of both a knowledge augmentation and also process efficiencies. Being able to pull together a patient’s lab results and studies and meds and what’s going on with them now, their symptoms, etc. – pulling all that together and helping the provider to make sense of it.

I think we’re just getting started, frankly. And again, one of those things where regulations and the healthcare system is, maybe not ready for it, but I do think it’ll be a very disruptive force, probably even more so than virtual visits and Telehealth.

Watch our interview here:

It’s exciting to see how many opportunities there are in the Health Tech space and it’s amazing what Providence St. Joseph Health is doing with the Telehealth technology, in particular. Everybody should have access to medical assistance when they need it, so I’m very excited to see that this technology is disrupting the current system and is helping a lot of people who live in rural areas to get access to qualified medical help on time. 

Learn more about Telehealth here! What are your thoughts on this technology and about Health Tech in general? Let me know in the comments!

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