3 Steps to Maintain Telehealth’s Momentum Post-Pandemic

In the face of COVID-19, healthcare witnessed how crises can become the long-awaited push for creativity and innovation that the industry needs. When our healthcare infrastructure’s weaknesses were exposed, telehealth helped to stitch them up, with the number of telehealth claims increasing 8,336% nationally from April 2019 to April 2020. Out of need, patients quickly turned to telehealth as a new model of care delivery; clinicians adapted to a new avenue for engaging with patients, policymakers began to improve incentives for its use; and home became our hospital. 

As we continue the fight to control the virus in 2021, the industry is at a pivotal moment in ensuring this year’s telehealth momentum continues post-pandemic. Healthcare organizations should take time now to strategize how best to hardwire telehealth, so it is embedded into care delivery models long-term. In order to achieve this, leaders need to consider their collaboration with other stakeholders, longitudinal integration strategies that go beyond piecemeal solutions and transform the perception of what “home” means in healthcare to meet consumers where they are. 


Step 1: Collaborate to advance technology

If we’ve learned anything from healthcare’s digitization over the years, it’s that technology for technology’s sake is not enough – solving healthcare’s issues is a systems problem, not a disease problem. For telehealth to last, there needs to be a clinical transformation where workflows are rewritten, policies strongly incentivize its use and companies and hospitals partner on outcome-based models that support its scalability. 

In the last six months, we have seen more innovation and adoption in healthcare than we’ve seen in the last decade, with typical innovation timelines of years becoming weeks or days. In many ways, this creativity and open innovation saved the U.S. healthcare system from collapsing and helped us survive the initial surge. We also saw the collaboration of all sorts reach new heights, with organizations, federal agencies, private and public companies from different industries coming together to manage surge capacity while maintaining quality care. Another benefit of these partnerships is the emphasis on long-term policy changes that will empower lasting change and adoption of these innovative approaches. Industry efforts, like ours with the ATA, aim to promote telehealth’s growth and support hospitals, payers, and patients across care settings. The pandemic’s productive collaboration cannot stop here. Instead, we should continue to bring dimensions of policy, clinical experience, and consumer voices to imbed telehealth into our everyday systems. 


Step 2: Determine avenues for seamless data integration across settings

Telehealth’s power is not in its technical claims, but in the power of presenting caregivers with actionable, meaningful patient data so they can make data-driven care decisions with confidence. This is only made possible with interoperable, cloud-based solutions that collect, digest, and analyze data to inform care. With constant transfer of key patient data through connected devices, such as hospital-grade wearables and biosensors, and translating the data into useable insights, remote patient monitoring empowers care teams with the knowledge needed to intervene earlier and keep patients healthy at home. 

Telehealth’s power expands beyond the home, supporting a continuum of care no matter what setting a patient is in. Remote monitoring within the hospital is the crux of minimizing infection risk, handling sudden increases in patient volumes and allocating resources appropriately. These include solutions such as centralized clinical command centers to achieve remote, holistic patient views, or technology that activates scalable patient monitoring for ICU ramp-ups. The solutions we deploy need to be enablers of seamless data transfer – from the ED to ICU, to post-acute and home setting. We now must ensure our informatics backbones mature with these solutions, eliminating gaps in care while ensuring a secure flow of data where and when it’s needed. Deploying cloud-based platforms that bring together the right information across the care continuum will make for a powerful, integrated system that enhances patient and staff safety improves outcomes, and reduces costs.  


Step 3: Transforming what “home” means in healthcare 

2020 has transformed how we view “home.”  Home has become the center of life operations for people across the globe – we work from home, we educate our children at home and we exercise at home. Healthcare is now becoming another cornerstone of the home. With a growing volume of telehealth offerings and household names providing care services, consumer behavior is changing to expect customization, convenience, and instant gratification. The consumer’s voice is loud, and tomorrow’s healthcare will move it from a whisper to a shout – We must be prepared to deliver care when and where patients want to receive it, increasingly let go of healthcare’s brick-and-mortar blueprint, and enable healthcare to match the ease and convenience of other areas of a patient’s life. 

However, just like all these other ‘at-home’ activities that require getting used to or training, we need to support health literacy and engagement for all users. The pandemic has made the inequalities in our health system raw. Even before the pandemic, 5% of the patients account for about half of U.S. healthcare spending. This is a sign that they are not receiving the proactive care and support they need. We have an opportunity to change this equation with virtual care and bridge the digital divide by tailoring solutions to meet each patient’s needs and ensuring equitable availability to all patients.


Transforming telehealth into a standard of care

Technology isn’t the answer to telehealth’s success alone – it is virtualizing care where it is needed most and ensuring it is fully integrated across an institution. Healthcare organizations should reflect on where their greatest challenges and populations are, and look for systematic solutions for telehealth so that virtualization can scale efficiently and build from existing technology and workflows. With productive collaboration across sectors, robust data integration infrastructures, and an evolved perception of how we view healthcare, these tools have the power to influence how patients view and engage with their health, pushing the industry toward more proactive care that will have long-term benefits on outcomes and cost.


About Karsten Russell-Wood

Karsten Russell-Wood, MBA, MPH is the Portfolio Leader for Post-Acute and Home at Philips where he is responsible for Innovation and cross-business platform strategy and portfolio optimization. Prior to joining Philips, Karsten held global product management roles within GE’s healthcare businesses with an orientation to targeted patient populations and continues to be active in venture capital and startups in the digital health space.


On-skin printing of sensors could monitor COVID-19 symptoms

Scientists say on-skin printing could be used to create on-body sensors to monitor physiological signals and devices to wirelessly transmit the data.

A team led by Huanyu Cheng from Penn State University, say the sensors are capable of precisely and continuously capturing temperature, humidity, blood oxygen levels and heart performance signals. The next stage on the project is to target specific application, for example to develop a sensor network that could monitor symptoms associated with COVID-19.

Crucially, the technique to print the circuits onto skin can be carried out at room temperature, as earlier efforts have been hampered by the need to use heated materials, or printing onto a carrier layer before attaching them to the body.

Writing in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, Cheng and colleagues say they have developed a “universal fabrication scheme” for on-body printing that makes use of a polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) paste and additives to reduce the temperature needed by the printing process.

Known as sintering, this type of printing typically requires temperatures of around 300 degrees centigrade to bind the silver particles used to form the circuits together.

By adding “nanoadditives” to the mix the scientists reduced that temperature to about 100 C, which allowed printing of circuits on clothing and paper but was still way too hot for use on skin.

Using PVA as a carrier layer along with calcium carbonate and changing the printing material was the key to enabling room temperature sintering, according to Cheng.

The PVA reduces printing surface roughness and allows for an ultrathin layer of metal patterns that can bend and fold while maintaining electromechanical capabilities. When the sensor is printed, the researchers can use a simple cool air blower to remove the water that is used as a solvent in the ink.

Once applied the sensors will resist immersion in tepid water for a few days, allowing washing, but can be removed easily with a hot shower.

“It could be recycled, since removal doesn’t damage the device,” Cheng said. “And, importantly, removal doesn’t damage the skin, either. That’s especially important for people with sensitive skin, like the elderly and babies.”

He added: “The device can be useful without being an extra burden to the person using it or to the environment.”

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NIH Taps PhysIQ to Develop AI-Based COVID-19 Digital Biomarker

NIH Taps PhysIQ to Develop AI-Based COVID-19 Digital Biomarker

What You Should Know:

– physIQ has been selected by the National Institute of Health (NIH) to develop an innovative AI-based COVID-19 digital biomarker solution to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Early detection of COVID-19 decompensation in patients
is complicated by infrequent and non-specific clinical data. The first-in-kind
tool will collect and analyzes continuous physiologic data could provide early
clinical indicators of COVID-19 decompensation.

The National Cancer
Institute (NCI)
and the National
Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB)
of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have
awarded physIQ a contract to develop an
AI-based COVID-19 Decompensation Index (CDI) Digital Biomarker to address the
rapid decline of high-risk COVID-19 patients.

Why It Matters

Today, high-risk COVID-19
patients and their providers are finding out too late that in the disease
continuum they are getting sicker and need urgent care. The new early warning
system under development could allow providers to intervene sooner when a
COVID-19 patient is clinically surveilled from home and begins to worsen.
Rather than relying on point measurements, such as temperature and SpO2, that
are known to be lagging or insensitive indicators of COVID-19 decompensation,
continuous multi-parameter vital signs will be used to establish a targeted
biomarker for COVID-19.

Despite the technological advances and attention paid to COVID-19, the healthcare community is still monitoring patient vitals the very same way as we did in the 1800s,” said Steven Steinhubl MD, Director of Digital Medicine at Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) and a physIQ advisor. “With the advances in digital technology, AI and wearable biosensors, we can deliver personalized medicine remotely giving caregivers new tools to proactively address this pandemic. For that reason alone, this decision by the NIH has the potential to have a monumental impact on our healthcare system and how we manage COVID-19 patients.”

COVID-19 Decompensation Index (CDI) Digital Biomarker Development

PhysIQ will develop and validate a CDI algorithm that builds off existing wearable biosensor-derived analytics generated by physIQ’s pinpointIQTM end-to-end cloud platform for continuous monitoring of physiology. The data will be gathered through a clinical study of COVID-19 positive patients in collaboration with the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System (UI Health) and build upon work already in-place for monitoring COVID-19 patients convalescing at home.

In the development phase of this project, physIQ and its clinical partner will monitor participants who are confirmed COVID-19 positive, whether recovering at home or following discharge from the hospital. During the validation phase, physIQ will evaluate lead time to event statistics, decompensation severity assessments, and the ability for CDI to predict decompensation severity.

“The application of the CDI may provide a universal indicator of decompensation,” said Karen Larimer PhD, ACNP-BC, study PI and physIQ’s Director of Clinical Development. “Application of this technology could detect COVID-19 decompensation and prevent hospitalization or morbidity events in both scenarios.”

The study is designed to capture data from a large, diverse
population to investigate CDI performance differences among subgroups based on
sex/gender and racial/ethnic characteristics. This project will not only enable
the development and validation of the CDI, it will also collect rich clinical
data correlative with outcomes and symptomology related to COVID-19 infection.

This index will build on physIQ’s prior FDA-cleared, AI-based multivariate change index (MCI) that has amassed more than 1.5 million hours of physiologic data, supporting the development of this targeted digital biomarker for COVID-19. This will enable new research and further insight into using digital health to advance the public health response.