Telehealth and the Future of Personalized Healthcare

Maybe you put off your annual physical exam for a year or two during the pandemic out of fear of contracting Covid-19 in your doctor’s waiting room. Or maybe you tried to get in for an office visit, but your physician had limited availability for in-person appointments. Either way, there’s a good chance you used some form of virtual healthcare during quarantine.

According to a recent survey of 1400 consumers (conducted by Leaf Group in collaboration with QuestDirect and Well+Good), 71 percent of respondents said that they had consulted online resources for health recommendations and advice in the last two years, and experts say it’s a trend that’s likely to continue.

“Consumers are actively hunting for modern solutions that will elevate the quality of their annual preventive care visit, their control of diagnostic testing, and ultimately their overall well-being,” says Jeffrey Dlott, MD, Medical Director of QuestDirect, the consumer-initiated testing service from Quest Diagnostics.

Wealth of Geeks talked to experts about what lies ahead for telehealth and personalized healthcare. Here’s what they had to say.

The Benefits and Limitations of Telehealth

During COVID, many people used telemedicine for the first time, says Michael Green, MD, a board-certified OB-GYN and Head of Clinical Operations at Winona. It’s unlikely that we’ll go backward in terms of technology and convenience,” Dr. Green says.

On the contrary, more personalized data and increased accessibility to on-demand tests will allow patients more control of their own health and wellness, says Dr. Dlott.

Douglas Roest-Gyimah, a licensed clinical social worker and Chief Executive Officer of Upstate Counseling in Albany, New York, claims telehealth has increased access to care for his patients, including those without reliable transportation and those who don’t have the time to travel to a physical medical office.

“People are even seeing us on their breaks at work — they go to their car and open their phones to have their appointments,” says Roest-Gyimah. If providers aren’t available locally, a person can select one from anywhere in the state.

Still, factors such as a poor internet connection and lack of privacy can make telehealth challenging, Roest-Gyimah says. Also, Dr. Green explains that getting a patient’s vitals and other data isn’t always possible during remote appointments.

In complex cases or illnesses requiring acute care, a patient would need to see a doctor in person, according to Dr. Dlott, but overall, patients are pleased with the convenience of telehealth.

Direct-to-Consumer Medical Testing Allows Patients More Control

From genomics to medical screening, direct-to-consumer (D2C) medical testing significantly expands the care options many patients possess, says Jacob Hascalovici, MD, a pain specialist, and Chief Medical Officer at Clearing, a telehealth platform for chronic pain patients. “Patients can order precisely the tests that most interest them while obtaining better prices or more convenient healthcare access.”

D2C testing empowers people to take charge of their health care decisions, agrees Dr. Dlott. “At QuestDirect, our goal is to bring actionable diagnostic insights directly into the hands of consumers. And what’s important to note is that these are the same quality tests that are used by doctors and hospitals.”

Patients who order at-home testing should keep their physicians in the loop so that no recommended tests are skipped and the test results are interpreted in the context of their overall medical situation, advises Dr. Hascalovici. He says that patients should also research to ensure the tests they purchase are as reliable and scientifically grounded as possible.

As far as reliability, The US Food and Drug Administration generally reviews D2C tests for moderate to high-risk medical purposes, verifies Dr. Green. “If a D2C test is FDA-approved, that means the test claims have been vetted by the government, so users should have a high level of confidence surrounding these tests.” But he was quick to point out no test is 100% accurate all the time.

What’s in Store for Personalized Healthcare in the Future?

According to providers, the pandemic accelerated the door opening wider for virtual healthcare, and it’s a shift that’s likely to continue over time. “The flexibility to be virtual or in-person is here to stay, and for a good reason,” says Roest-Gyimah.

If the entire world shut down again, patients would not lose access to their healthcare simply because they couldn’t see their provider in person, says Vanessa Méndez, MD, a triple board-certified gastroenterologist, internist, and lifestyle medicine physician at Planted Forward in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

When Dr. Méndez began practicing medicine in a traditional setting, she quickly realized that 15-20 minutes was not enough to get to the root cause of a patient’s problem.

“Healthcare providers often feel burned out when they can’t solve or heal. Yet, with this new way of healthcare via telehealth private practices, we can allow as much time as we feel we need without rushing to see our next patient from a systematic, overarching healthcare practice that no longer works. This system works for both the provider and the patient.”

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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay.