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The Integration of Enhanced Connectivity and Wearables to Support the Evolution of Telemedicine

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Telemedicine is actively transforming the healthcare system and reshaping the ways in which care is delivered. Catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the rapid expansion of telehealth is now seen as a way to break down a number of barriers — including rural healthcare access and the availability of specialists. Alongside it, the rise of wearables and IoT devices raises the possibility to offer continuous, remote monitoring to personalize care.

“Telehealth has the potential to improve the quality of healthcare while simultaneously making it more accessible to a broader audience. Furthermore, it has the potential of improving the efficiency, coordination, and accessibility of healthcare,” said IEEE Member Sukanya Mandal. “Wearables have not only evolved in form factor but also in the amount of information they can collect, store and process. These interconnected sensory medical devices generate a heavy load of real-time patient data that can streamline healthcare delivery, provide personalized care, introduce efficiency in treatment planning, enhance health outcomes and improve the overall quality of patient care.”

The Need for Enhanced Connectivity

Quality broadband connectivity is a critical component of telemedicine access, and its level of accessibility is increasingly seen as a social determinant of health.  As per WHO research, social determinants are more important than healthcare or lifestyle preferences in influencing health. For example, social determinants of health (SDH) account for about 30-55% of health outcomes. International Journal For Equity  in Health in India explains that a systematic and  continuous understanding and analysis of SDH are evolving in India  leaving a direct impact on health outcomes. Broadly, digital healthcare is an essential measure for sustained improvements in health for   most Indians. Broadly speaking, access to broadband is reducing the disparities while improving health facilities in India.

“Seamless connectivity will help in sending across real-time information about patient health thereby improving the accuracy of diagnosis and further consultation,” said Mandal. Modernizing digital infrastructures to support 5G and enhanced connectivity will be the key to making access to telemedicine more widely available. Those in underserved communities who may live far away from healthcare providers can be afforded the opportunity to receive higher quality care much more easily. “Having access to telemedicine, whether it’s via cellular networks or home internet, increases the probability of treatment compliance which leads to better healthcare outcomes,” said IEEE Member Carmen Fontana.

Wearables For Remote Patient Monitoring

Wearable technology is continuously evolving and has established itself as an effective way to seamlessly collect in-depth patient data in real-time. Wearables are integral to remote patient monitoring and improving patient outcomes as they empower providers to make more accurate and informed decisions. Wearables and mobiles are already providing substantial amounts of data at the population level. “As an example, smartphone apps have been used to track close contacts and to anticipate potential hot-spots for large scale transmission,” said IEEE Fellow Ravinder Dahiya.

As technology progresses, wearable technology will continue to be further integrated into telemedicine to better assist providers and their patients. “The next generation of AI capabilities will allow even more health data to be integrated into wearables and mobile applications, assisting in the detection of patterns that may indicate potential concerns. Additionally, with further technological maturity, we may see more advanced IoT telemedicine solutions that may use real-time data to give better remote care and assist in completing some basic medical procedures from a distance. This could save time, money, and unnecessary hassles,” Mandal said.

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