The COVID-19 pandemic has brought fundamental changes to the healthcare industry worldwide. It has presented a unique challenge to hospital capacity and health workers given the relatively massive spread of the virus.
Governments around the world, including Indonesia, have been directing citizens to practice social distancing and have been closing non-essential services to flatten the curve of the spread of the virus and optimise hospital operations where patient capacity is soaring. Therefore, technology that is conducive to self-quarantine can be applied to maintain important communication between patients and doctors, and at the same time can prevent patients without serious complaints from attending hospitals, which are already experiencing overcapacity issues.
Given the high rate of disease transmission, especially within hospitals, telehealth technology can be an effective and efficient way of dealing with the spread of the virus as well as reducing pressure on hospital capacity. Telehealth technology can operate as a filter capable of protecting people with virus symptoms, enabling them to stay at home while directing more severe cases to hospitals.
Telehealth technology can enable patients to be seen and diagnosed remotely by doctors through audiovisual, real-time observation, and two-way interactive communication systems. This includes video ‘visits’ via computers, tablets, and smartphones supported by webcams, chatbots, and automated algorithms.
Several health start-ups in Indonesia have reported a significant increase in demand for the usage of their platforms. Technology companies, such as Telkomtelstra, have also supported their initiatives in the telehealth space with Digital Customer Engagement and Cloud Contact Center solutions.
In general, remote clinical care services using audio-visual conferencing technology offer several important benefits:
- First, they allow hospitals to remain in control when facing the challenge of overcapacity of patients requiring care;
- Second, they reduce the level of risk of virus transmission, in particular to health workers;
- And third, as these services are available anytime, they can handle more patients than in-person care.
Hospitals, public health authorities, and other health institutions around the world are currently utilising online symptom screening to screen patients for signs of COVID-19, as well as obtaining detailed medical records and exposure history. This technology can be used to triage patients before they arrive at an emergency department, and can be used as an initial coordination reference point for care for those suspected of having COVID-19 or for those that have had direct contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient.
Although there are many benefits to adopting telehealth technology, this does not mean that the application of such technology is obstacle-free. Some of the challenges in implementing telehealth technology include technology capacity and accessibility. Telehealth can only function well with strong networks and high-speed internet connectivity, especially when this solution is widely used on smartphone apps. On the contrary, poor internet connectivity and a lack of bandwidth coverage make patients prefer attending onsite facilities for treatment. Of course, this is counterproductive to the original objective.
On that basis, to get the best benefits out of telehealth technology, hospitals need to look at best-in-class network solutions to improve the overall healthcare experience and outcomes. Leading network solutions such as Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) can help hospitals improve the patient experience of telehealth technology through better workflows, faster response times, and increased effectiveness with the best care management. Currently, healthcare institutions and hospitals not only have to address the many needs of handling COVID-19 patients, but they must invest today in building the strong and competitive digital capabilities of the future. To that end, adopting telehealth technology must be in line with carefully considered technology choices over the long term.(*)