Everyone’s talking about telemedicine these days, and for good reason. While telemedicine usage was already increasing in 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 has led to huge increases in the number of medical practitioners using telemedicine to reach their patients, and much larger variety in the way in which it is being used. As usage increases, so will the innovations and tools available to telemedicine practitioners. The greatest changes will come when AI and telemedicine come together to improve patient outcomes.
Our blog Top 5 Benefits of AI in Healthcare looks at the ways in which AI can be used to improve patient outcomes. Here we look at how AI and telemedicine can work together.
Telemedicine as we know it is undergoing a seismic change. Its core is still remote consultations between healthcare practitioners and patients, be it by phone or video call, but remote medical services are growing beyond that narrow definition. Technology providers and healthcare organisations alike are looking for new ways to reach patients and improve the entire patient experience.
In 2020, more people use their phones for the apps or chatting by text, than for actual calls. Many healthcare organisations have jumped on this trend and developed apps to reach their patients. These apps offer a range of services from facilitating consultations between patients and medical professionals (often by text chat), to information for patients and diagnostic services.
AI can be used for vital signs monitoring inside a medical app. Patients are encouraged to monitor their vital signs regularly, or in the leadup to a telemedicine consultation, and the healthcare professional can then pull up their latest stats at the start of the session.
Already analysed by AI, the doctor will be able to see alerts for recent changes to their health, any vital signs that lie outside normal range, or data that backs up the patient’s symptoms. They will also be able to be better informed about co-related symptoms.
In a face to face visit, a doctor can decide to conduct small tests in real time, for example blood pressure or heart rate monitoring. With AI they can do this in session itself, getting real time results which can be combined with the already analysed data to make a decision about whether the patient needs a face to face appointment. The AI algorithm can also be used to identify whether an increase in blood pressure is due to ‘white coat syndrome’, or a sign of a more genuine problem.
One of the downsides of remote healthcare is the loss of face to face interaction. Even in a video call, the screen creates a barrier between the doctor and the patient. Medical professionals are essentially going in blind. They have to rely on the information given to them by the patient, or what they can see or hear themselves. They may be missing changes in the patient’s condition right in front of their eyes.
AI could be used to give them a head start. They can use it to detect changes in their heart rate or respiratory rate, for example, signalling worsening health, or increased anxiety. This information in turn could be used by the remote medical professional to make quick decisions, possibly even saving lives.
Many patients with chronic health conditions require regular health monitoring to ensure that they are stable, and to ensure that their treatment is working. But that follow up doesn’t need to take place face to face.
Using AI in a telemedicine setting allows both medical professionals and patients to track the impact of their treatment plans in real time, remotely and safely. AI can also be utilised to give warnings as soon as something changes for the patient, and they need to come in for a face to face session.
Big changes are taking place in the world of AI and telemedicine. While Covid-19 forced changes to happen quickly, the mobile app generation will definitely help it along. Where concerns still exist about how telemedicine can exactly replicate the face to face model of medicine we are so used to, AI has a role to fill that gap. From vital signs monitoring, and preventative health, to diagnostics and more, AIs role in telemedicine will continue to grow in scope and importance, very very quickly.