Smartphone apps and connected devices that largely have seen niche use in the telemedicine context are likely to see a significant growth as online and remote consultations with doctors during the COVID-19 pandemic become more routine and established in the months to come.
The devices and apps range from ones that are worn like a skin patch and monitor vital signs to transmit data to doctors to ones that a parent uses to send high-quality images and video of a child's throat and ear to a physician. They also include apps that employ artificial intelligence technologies to detect signs of pneumonia from a person's cough.
While most telehealth connections between doctors and patients are being done through common audio and video apps including Zoom, WhatsApp and Facetime, "it would be a lot more powerful if we are able to add more information," said Joseph Kvedar, vice president of Connected Health, and the president-elect of the American Telemedicine Association. "What information does a doctor need to make a diagnostic decision or make a change in a care plan and communicate it to you?"
Kvedar, professor of dermatology at the Harvard Medical School and co-author of a book, Internet of Healthy Things, said use of devices and technologies to connect patients and doctors "are going to blossom."
Devices and technologies that enable so-called asynchronous connection, allowing a patient to send information or a picture that a doctor can review at the end of a day and respond with a diagnosis or a recommendation, are the "obvious next steps," Kvedar said. Such communication would not tie up a doctor's time with a live call during a work day.
On the horizon are devices and apps that can help patients do blood testing at home or capture biomarker signals recorded by smartphones that can then be sent to physicians for evaluation of possible underlying causes, Kvedar said.
Propelled by coronavirus
The increased use of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a significant increase in demand for new technologies in the coming years, market forecaster Frost & Sullivan said in a May 13 report.
"The telehealth market in the United States is estimated to display staggering seven-fold growth by 2025, resulting in a five-year compound annual growth rate of 38.2 percent," Frost & Sullivan said in its report. "In 2020, the telehealth market is likely to experience a tsunami of growth, resulting in a year-over-year increase of 64.3 percent."
The need to maintain social distancing will lead to an "unprecedented demand for telehealth, which involves the use of communication systems and networks to enable either a synchronous or asynchronous session between the patient and provider," Victor Camlek, healthcare analyst at Frost & Sullivan, said in a statement accompanying the firm's report.