Virtual care makes convincing case during pandemic
The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has created a shift in the conduct of healthcare, particularly in the use of digital technology in enabling virtual experiences for both physicians and patients, as suggested by experts in the recently concluded 2020 Virtual Forum of the Asia Pacific Medical Technology Association (APACMed 2020).
Prior to the pandemic, the virtual care industry has been on the fringes of healthcare, according to Joe DeVivo, president of hospitals and health systems at Teladoc Health, a multinational telemedicine and virtual healthcare company based in the US.
“What we’ve done [at Teladoc] is develop novel use cases … within the existing environment, within the existing reimbursement paradigm, within the regulatory paradigm,” DeVivo said, noting how the recent pandemic has created awareness that virtual is possible.
“[V]irtual [care] is actually not something as a bridge to not being able to do consultation in person but is actually, in many situations, preferred for those who were inconvenienced to come into the office or those who needed immediate and urgent consultation,” he further explained.
The current situation has also shown that telehealth should be part of everyday healthcare. DeVivo stressed how telemedicine is getting a significant level of adoption as well as global dialogue around how and when to make such approach permanent.
This was supported by Andrew Fyre, senior vice president and president for Asia Pacific at Baxter Healthcare, a multinational healthcare company focusing on products to treat haemophilia, kidney disease, immune disorders, and other chronic and acute medical conditions.
“When we see the opportunities for virtual health or home health, it really changes the way people can live,” he said.
In the case of dialysis in which Baxter specializes, Fyre shared that the use of software to monitor patients at home revealed how millions of bytes of data that could be gleamed from this treatment would be useful for physicians to improve care.
Virtual care has allowed healthcare professionals to see data every day, increasing confidence for both patients and caregivers, knowing that that data is being shared with the attending physician.
“I really feel like virtual health or remote care is [going to] be a key element of telehealth or virtual health,” Fyre said.
Amkidit Afable, vice president of strategy and innovation at Zuellig Pharma, complemented the discussion by mentioning three elements that are critical for virtual care to succeed, namely, accessibility, seamlessness, and security.
“It’s more than just a virtual conversation,” he said. “Because essentially if I’m a patient today, I don’t want to talk to five, 10, 15 people to manage my care or go through 15 apps. I just want one central nervous system that connects me to the right services, whether it’s a [consultation], a prescription that needs to be delivered to home, [or] a diagnostic that I need to do, in one simple manner.”
On the other hand, DeVivo clarified that “video conferencing is not telemedicine or telehealth,” pointing out an entire workflow that involves medical grade requirements, security, data management, and privacy, among others.
Glenn Snyder, segment leader for medical technology practice at Deloitte Consulting, who acted as moderator of the discussion, asked the significance of government policy in the conduct of virtual care.
Fyre answered in the affirmative, stressing how policies could support virtual care, including predictive analytics and digital innovation.
“[P]hysicians get paid to see patients in their office now,” he said. “If they spend all their time on an electronic environment, will that qualify? That has to be addressed … [and also] how the providers are compensated for their time and their efforts.”