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Telehealth in the wake of Covid-19

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, clinics, doctors, nurses and patients are searching for new and better ways of delivering and receiving care remotely to protect their front-line staff.

The industry pivoted to telehealth services to enable patients to remain connected from the comfort of their homes and in doing so, created a tangible way of future-proofing their services with innovative methods of care.

The key drivers for the rise in telehealth services is largely made possible by the proliferation of smart devices like Apple’s iPhone and iPad and an increase in digital healthcare apps. Over the past few years, Apple pre-installed its Health App on all devices and specifically launched three kits: HealthKit, which allows developers to feed information to and from the app while providing a framework for connecting new apps; ResearchKit, through which developers can create apps for medical research or clinical trials; and CareKit, aimed at connecting patients with providers.

With a growth in apps that can monitor and diagnose consumers’ health for their benefit on consumer devices, it’s no surprise that the digital health market is set to exceed $379 billion by 2024, as reported in Global Market Insights 2018.

Protecting the front-line

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that all aspects of healthcare have had to rethink the way in which they operate to reduce the contagious nature of the coronavirus – the shortage of personal protective equipment, such as ventilators and beds has meant that going into a healthcare practice or hospital can only be reserved for those who are extremely ill.

For those with other ailments, technology has played an important role in helping our healthcare system to remain connected in delivering care, tracking the progress of those patients and even helping patients to communicate with their family and friends while in self-isolation.

 Telehealth and Telemedicine provides a path for healthcare organisations to administer medicine, health recommendations and personalised care successfully from a remote location and such tech-enabled care services are being highly recommended by the UK government and US.

In order to reduce the risk of contracting the virus while delivering necessary care and support, healthcare practitioners turned to device and app management solutions that provided virtual visiting features as a way to deliver consultations.

However, organisations that sought the support of Apple-specific device management providers, also benefitted from longer-term strategic digital transformation opportunities that can change the way in which they operate in the future with devices we are already familiar with.

For example, with the use of existing iPad investments, various teleconferencing apps could be configured and deployed to patients without needing to touch the devices. With third-party tools such as Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft Teams, providers and care teams can virtually enter the room, whether at the patient’s home or hospital.

This not only reduces the possible transmission of infectious disease, but also limits the amount of PPE that the care team requires during a visit. Financially, this also lifts the cap on how many patients can be seen in a day as well as helping to reduce in hospital visits to only those who need treatment.

For the hospital or care home, this enables them to future-proof their services. Whether they are working from another location at the hospital, or remotely at their office or home, virtualising consultations greatly expands the impact of their entry into a hospital room.

One consultant in the room with an awake patient, could facilitate a private conference with other providers, learners and important hospital staff like registered nurses (RNs), respiratory therapists (RTs), pharmacists or dietitians.

It could also increase the efficiency of rounding, if teams carry this out in a coordinated way. If a provider is forced to quarantine themselves but is well enough to work, they can continue to participate in delivering care.

Delivering Access

Each department preforms different tasks and therefore require apps that are unique to their role. This is where mobile device management (MDM) is required to help IT administrators to manage and secure the entire fleet of devices within a hospital or care home.

Each managed device can be configured remotely and delivered with the exact tools needed for the practitioner, consultant or patient, remotely, quickly and efficiently. This is particularly important in times where roles and responsibilities of healthcare staff may have shifted to cope with the crisis and devices have needed to be delivered in the hands of the patient or practitioner at scale.

In addition, once set up and installed, devices managed by an MDM solution will be able to receive app or system updates as soon as they are available, to help continue reducing the risk of COVID-19 and protecting the patient’s personal data. 

Supporting mental health through technology

Hospital visits are inherently stressful for patients as they may feel isolated and disconnected from their loved ones.

According to a survey run by the Academy of Medical Sciences, among 2,100 people, including those that have mental-health conditions, there were concerns about accessing support and services during the pandemic, as well as the fear that their existing health problems might worsen.

The long-term impact of the pandemic is unknown but through technology solutions, the healthcare industry can provide services to help mitigate patients at risk.

With the use of virtual visiting technology and communication tools, anxiety can be alleviated and can keep patients apprised of all information on their diagnosis and care plan, as well as in contact with their family and friend support system.

The type of technology used in connecting patients to their doctors or loved ones is important. Easy to use tablets, such as iPads, provide patients with a robust device that doesn’t necessarily need any additional training to use or manuals to read.

Compatibility with other health apps and fitness trackers mean the patient can also support with data entry and when paired with a specific Apple device and app management solution, IT teams can roll out different apps to meet patient needs as well as digitally sterilise shared devices to ensure there is no data residue from the previous patient to keep devices secure.

Protecting and securing patient and staff data

The healthcare industry had tasked itself to go digital by 2020 but the confidential nature of the data they hold on patients, the sensitivity of the research data, budget restrictions and compliance concerns has meant there are more steps to take in order to digitally transform.

Cybersecurity remains a top priority as 67% of UK healthcare organisations experienced some kind of cyber security incident during 2019.

The primary causes of the data breach were identified as third-party devices such as USB thumb drives and IoT devices. With telehealth becoming a permanent reality, security needs to be at the forefront of patient experience.

While smartphone manufacturers like Apple, have taken rigorous steps to prevent breaches, including pre-installed security apps and TouchID, several layers of additional security is still required in order to protect patient, hospital and care home data.

A specialised security solution with Apple-specific threat detection, can support hospitals and care homes by providing visibility into which third-party devices are being connected to the system – from locking down and unnecessary access to end points as well as detecting potential threats.

IT teams can then remotely wipe a device and delete apps, as well as any saved log-in credentials from one central location at the click of a button. As a result, patients and staff can remain secure while connecting with care support and loved ones.

Giving employees access to specific files and documents only will help to prevent the potential spread of viruses and threats.

Each department and staff member can be delivered pre-authorised access, so sensitive information remains in the relevant hands. This can achieved quickly through a one-click approach using a MDM solution.

In the same fashion, to not limit productivity as such a crucial time, the use of technology for telemedicine, has also initiated some regulatory waivers and exemptions, impacting the usual processes put in place. For any compliance policies and protocols that may have been temporarily amended, the IT team can roll out updates to ensure all devices adhere to requirements, consistently.

Telehealth is here to stay

The recent health crisis has accelerated the use of technology and telehealth has quickly delivered many benefits to patients, hospital and care home staff. A vital element of telehealth and telemedicine is to ensure contact with patients can remain as close as possible – where ever the patient may be.

Virtual visitations will be used more frequently as way to reduce in-person contact and has opened the doors for more possibilities in delivering care.

It’s important that as care is provided, patient and hospital data remains safe and secure and this is where a specialised device and app management can help to not only reduce efforts but introduce new innovative ways of working to transform and future proof the industry.

Victoria Smith is healthcare practice lead (EMEIA) at software firm Jamf. She has worked within the healthcare industry for more than 20 years, 14 of which were with the NHS. In her previous role, Victoria oversaw the procurement processes and contracts for Oxford Health NHS Foundation and was responsible for all frontline IT services, including the enrolment of a mobile device team and solutions. It is here where she regularly tackled the challenges of digitising the NHS for the benefit of IT, clinicians and patients and saw first-hand the impact that compliance, security and funding can have on employee and patient experience.  

 

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