As COVID-19 continues to disrupt healthcare delivery across the world, telehealth – the provision of healthcare remotely through telecommunication technology – has taken centre stage to support remote and virtual healthcare.
The pandemic has put paid to routine check-ups across the world – medical staff have been redirected to COVID-19 patients, clinicians have had to self-isolate, and patients with underlying conditions have been left housebound and unable to attend appointments. Remote and virtual appointments have become a key part of care pathways through the pandemic and look likely to become a regular medical fixture in the ‘new normal’ post-COVID. AI and machine learning technologies have proved instrumental in enabling the boom in remote healthcare through innovations such as telehealth.
Eko, a US-based health technology firm, launched Eko Telehealth, a telehealth platform running on AI that monitors virtual pulmonary and cardiac activity, at the turn of May. The AI-powered platform facilitates stethoscope audio, electrocardiogram livestreaming, and the identification of heart murmurs, among other uses; in short, clinicians have a full suite of diagnostics tools available to them as though at the hospital bedside.
AI-driven innovations such as Eko’s new telehealth system enable comprehensive screening at the earliest point of care – the AI drives the suite of detection tools, which enable clinicians to perform complete cardiac and pulmonary check-ups without the patient requiring any initial physical contact with the care system.
As governments restructure healthcare to meet the needs of the ‘new normal’, such telehealth systems may prove critical in allowing a permanent shift to remote monitoring and screening, reducing waiting room burdens and increasing healthcare access.
Regulatory barriers to telehealth will be an issue. For example, in the US the regulatory discord between states has stymied the uptake of telehealth through prohibitively complex reimbursement and licensure regulations.
Yet, telehealth represents a key opportunity to deliver healthcare to people who struggle to access health centres; and this will be critical as we move to a post-COVID reality.