21 Mar Unequipped For Utter Chaos
With the pandemic demonstrating exactly how unequipped we are for utter chaos, many businesses made a good living off of the opportunity to provide remote services during the shutdown. Zoom, for instance, raked in a whopping $2.6 billion revenue in 2020 versus their comparatively weak $331 million year in 2018. Corporations needed their workers to remain productive while the virus tore through office buildings. Zoom offered the solution.
Trying To Keep Up
But a problem even bigger than Apple’s offices temporarily shutting down during the pandemic was the healthcare system’s inability to keep up with the virus’ devastating effects. This problem allowed telemedicine to grow 63-fold in 2020. Through telemedicine’s pandemic popularity, there were many benefits discovered that few people thought of. With telehealth patients not having to worry about transportation, taking time off of work, catching illnesses from unsterile waiting rooms, or having to plan their whole life around a single appointment, many were left wondering, “Why is this just now becoming a thing?”
Now that telemedicine is estimated to be valued at $250 billion once the pandemic blows over, it’s safe to say that it is here to stay. It’s also no surprise why a giant corporation like Amazon is getting its hungry hands on a slice of the delicious telehealth pie. With more big-tech, retail, and telecom companies to follow suit – a corporate telehealth equivalent to the Space Race of the 60s is surely on its way. So what’s in the cards for telemedicine?
Endlessly Tracking Everything
One of the most popular contributions to telehealth so far is remote patient monitoring (RPM) – a software tech that allows healthcare providers to track patient vitals and additional metrics while patients are at home. RPM services allow physicians to monitor their patients’ vitals, blood pressure, blood oxygen, and even glucose levels on an entirely remote basis. Different RPM services have different ways of monitoring and assisting patients.
Element Science, for instance, provides its patients with a wearable defibrillator that uses machine learning to diagnose and react to heart-related abnormalities. Huma’s ‘hospital at home’ approach involves tracking and monitoring patients directly through smartphones while Biofourmis Health uses machine learning and wearables to focus on and assist patients with acute or chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
Then you also have MindMaze, a virtual-reality-based neurotherapeutics startup that provides therapeutic gaming experiences designed to improve neurological functions for people affected by conditions such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and more.
One Quick Glance
All of it sounds fascinating, right? Real-time vitals data, patient health monitoring, and a wearable defibrillator that could literally save a patient’s life! However, you’d have every reason to perk your ears up upon finding out that companies such as AT&T, Samsung, Best Buy, Pepsico, and even Salesforce (a software company that helps businesses mine data) all have a hand in the telehealth pot. One quick glance at the big names getting into telehealth and a cynic’s mind could spin with many concerns regarding their data.
Fortunately for those with privacy concerns, The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) exists. In order to use a patient’s data for marketing purposes, telehealth providers must request permission in the form of a non-compound agreement. This means that they cannot tuck the agreement at the end of a 10-page term of use document or a payment agreement. No, it must be a transparent, standalone, and blatant request that essentially says, “Do we have your permission to use your protected health information in order to find out if you’re a good prospect for the new Pepsi flavor?”
So no, patient data is (most likely) not going towards generating leads for marketing campaigns or finding out the percentage of people whose pupils dilated while watching the latest Samsung Galaxy ad. As of now, any data mined from these telehealth partnerships serves only to improve quality of service and accurately diagnose common patient issues.
A Few Hard-Learned Lessons
As for wireless network operators like AT&T and Verizon’s role in the RPM boom? They are holders of 5G mobile networks which have very pivotal potential in bringing telemedicine to the next level. 5G networking is the best bet telemedicine providers have to combat challenges such as outages, slow connections, and a variety of other latency-related hiccups that could prevent patients from receiving valuable care when they need it.
None of this is to say that none of these companies are planning on using patient data for marketing purposes, but it is to say that there are certainly going to be a few hard-learned lessons for those who choose not to navigate the world of protected patient data carefully.