The trend is rising! Telemedicine and its associated technologies/software have found tremendous acceptance in the U.S. mainstream medical practices, with more than 50% of the U.S. hospitals establishing some kinds of in-house telemedicine programs. Unfortunately, the same pace of telemedicine adoption has not been recorded in the emerging markets. The greatest roadblock (apart from regulations) to pushing telemedicine to the mainstream to help people in emerging markets is the apparent lack of awareness of what is possible with the concept. Steve Jobs once said, “a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
In-app communication software has grown in popularity recently, enabled by the development and widespread utilization or application of WebRTC programmable video, voice, and data APIs. Temasys, for instance, offers a suite of real-time, enterprise level communication solutions geared at its global customers across wide-ranging applications, such as online education, telemedicine, financial institutions, field services, help desks, and so on (Temasys, 2018).
Vonage, a prominent communication disruptor, acquired TokBox, a global leader in programmable video APIs for $35 million to bolster its existing communication platforms in SMS, voice, and IP messaging. TokBox makes it possible for developers to add just a few lines of code to customize their live video capability. With this increasing rate of adoption of WebRTC, the programmable video market is expected to balloon to $7.4 billion by 2022 (Vonage, 2018).
On a significant level, in-built messaging or communication applications have been able to reduce the cost and complexity of integrating live videos in an app, web and IoT devices. However, the most creative aspect of this phenomenon is the use of in-app communication software in telemedicine to promote efficiency that is capable of disrupting the entire healthcare industry.
Benefits of Telemedicine/In-app communication software
Some of the operational benefits of the telemedicine/in-app communication software are highlighted as follows:
Economies of scale: Telemedicine makes it possible for doctors to perform under the condition of economies of scale. They can attempt multiple tasks within the same timeframe. Take for instance, a doctor in Singapore can give a consultation for someone’s skin condition in the Philippines by spending 5 minutes looking at a photo/ video on the screen, in between seeing patients or during their break time. Similarly, a nurse could monitor 20 outpatients in long-term care at once with real-time video, saving time and making the process way more efficient.
Cost benefits of telemedicine: Telemedicine produces better return on investments (ROIs) for hospitals running the program. There has been significant cut in the time it takes to follow up with a doctor online. Patients, on the other hand, can save time on long commute and keep up with their doctors more regularly. The communication cycles are considered to be faster because there is an increasingly faster access to information (medical information). Hospitals have enjoyed better customer retention rates since their customers (patients) can have access to the expertise they required at a reduced cost. Undoubtedly, the increasing or relatively stable number of patients make it possible for hospitals to maintain or increase their revenues. And when hospital professionals are well-paid, they can put in more quality work and improve on the overall productivity (Siddiqui, 2014).
Long-term care: Patients can have access to long-term care for illnesses that require long-term medical attention. This is doable because of the medical costs that have been drastically reduced. At a lower cost and better quality, patients can now have access to treatments that would have cost them a fortune before. They can have more frequent and real-time monitoring of blood pressure, heartbeat, and other clinical diagnostics. This used to be a massive undertaking for health professionals attending to long-term healthcare patients who must physically visit the hospital before. So, having digital and real-time healthcare system will not only drive down the cost, but also improve the quality of service patients receive.
As an integral aspect of human rights, everyone deserves access to affordable and quality healthcare system. More than ever before, there is an urgent need to bring improved healthcare to the people in emerging countries. Though, efforts must be deployed toward removing some hindrances that seem to threaten the implementation of telemedicine in many emerging economies. Some of these seemingly perennial hurdles include but are not limited to:
- Security: There are unfounded beliefs among people in the emerging economies that telemedicine may not be safe and secure. People are also concerned about privacy and other cultural issues that may be jeopardized by adopting telemedicine.
- Staffing: The current calibre of medical staff in those emerging countries have little or no knowledge or experience in telemedicine; hence, it is believed among stakeholders in those economies that it may cost a lot to train new staff.
- Patient engagement: It is not clear how soon the emerging economies will overcome their doubts and fear of telemedicine and give the process a chance.
- Connectivity: One of the major drawbacks to the implementation of the telemedicine in the emerging economies is that concern about connectivity. Will the new healthcare procedure be compatible with the existing infrastructures? Will there be seamless integration among all the various aspects of the medical system if telemedicine is instituted?
When all the issues outlined above are conscientiously taken care of, it may become easy for the emerging economies to give telemedicine a chance.
eVisit (2018). 36 telemedicine statistics you should know. Retrieved from https://blog.evisit.com/36-telemedicine-statistics-know
Siddiqui, J. (2014). Telemedicine and the return on investment. TeleMed2U. Retrieved from http://idahoahec.org/app/uploads/2014/06/Javeed.Siddiqui.ROI-and-TeleMedicine-2014.pdf
Temasys (2018). Products. Retrieved from https://temasys.io/products/
Vonage (2018). Vonage acquires TokBox, the leading programmable video provider.