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Post-Pandemic Scenarios – XIV – TeleHealth

The usage of tele-health services in the US increased sharply, as shown in this graphic, as the Covid-19 started to affect US. The vertical bars represent the number of tele-consultancy per week in 2019 (pale blue) and 2020 (dark blue) in the first 3 months of the year. Notice the sharp increase in March 2021. The solid black line represents the increase in % of tele-consultation, the dashed line the decrease in % of on site consultation. Image credit: CDC

Tele-Health

The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of tele-health in many Countries. In the US, according to Fair Health, the usage of tele-health has increased over 4,300% between March 2019 and March 2020. Medicare and Medicaid have added over 80 services in 2020 to be delivered remotely and have set the same price for on site and remote service delivery.

Graphic representing, for different health care services, the delivery through tele-health in 2019 and the expectation of delivery in the post pandemic phase. Use of tele-health is expected to triple, on average. Image credit: Statista

In Italy we have seen a surge of remote consultation and prescriptions and, interestingly, the expectation is that the pandemic has introduced a point of no-return in several areas of healthcare provision. When the pandemic will be over many of the services (like prescriptions) will be delivered from remote.  The graphic on the side shows with the black bar the amount of tele-consultations in 2019 (in %) versus the amount of tele-consultations expected in the post pandemic phase. Notice that with the exception of use of tele-consultation for specialists the expectation is tripling the volume. For specialists consultations the increase is much more limited but still in the order of 30%.

Interesting the uptake of tele-rehab and tele-examinations that as mentioned in the previous post will leverage on a variety of devices becoming available at home.

Tele-health is disrupting the geography of health care. In the coming years we may see the rise of points of excellence providing this service to people all over the world. A person in the Philippine may decide to subscribe to tele-health service delivered from a service provider located in Sweden. That service provider will take care, if need arises, to link the patient to a local doctor or health care centre / hospital for on site care.

This tele-service provisioning is bound to create hubs of delivery and the management of the increasing demand will be met, most likely, with automatic response systems, software applications based on artificial intelligence, plus a systematic use of natural language interaction.

Each patient will have a corresponding healthcare record, recording his vitals (possibly automatically updated in quasi-real time depending on the level of service required), prescriptions taken, plus all the result of exams, consultations and the sequence of his genome. This record will be used by machine learning algorithms to create a model of that person and a variety of software applications will be monitoring both the patient and the potential risk of the environment on that patient. In other words, this shift towards tele-health will be supported, and mediated, by the creation and use of personal digital twins.

Also notice that the shift towards tele-health is shifting the value towards those “software companies” that can have access to the largest volume of data/patients since they would be able to leverage on both volume and diversity to derive better intelligence and more accurate services. In other words, in the health care area by shifting to AI increased volumes means increased customisation potential (quite a different situation from manufacturing where increased volume leads to averaging the product features).

Additionally, the delivery of healthcare support, particularly monitoring, using software and personal digital twins can enable continuous  consultation (one person may get in touch with her virtual doctor as many times as wished, every single day with a single subscription cost. The increased effort on the provider side is negligible, the perceived advantage on the receiving side is huge. As an additional benefit, the more a person uses the service the more data are being accrued, increasing the provider data space value.

The “softwarization” of tele-health services is going to change the landscape of healthcare by the end of this decade, as pointed out in the FTI’s report. Do notice, however, that the previous considerations on personal digital twins are mine, derived from the work being done with the Digital Reality Initiative at IEEE FDC.

 

 

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.