Changing the Human Touch to a Digital Touch – how COVID-19 Accelerates the Need to Secure Telehealth

Hugh Carroll

For centuries, the laying on of hands, or the “human-touch” has symbolized the essence of the doctor-patient relationship. The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting this age-old tradition by accelerating the digital transformation of the healthcare delivery model for medical workers globally. The human-touch is now transforming to an increasingly digital-touch, enabled by secure telehealth solutions. This has implications for healthcare workers, patients and IT providers globally.

Secure Telehealth enables shift from hospital to community-centric care

The experiences gained by doctors treating patients in the early outbreak of the pandemic in Italy have helped to inform medics in other countries how they might use telehealth technologies to better contain the virus. To avoid overloading hospitals and intensive care beds, the Italian medics advocated identifying and treating cases as early as possible in the community. Such initiatives are designed to help limit the spread of the virus, by limiting the exposure of patients to other vulnerable patients and frontline medical care workers.

In the USA, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has broadened access to Medicare telehealth services so that beneficiaries can receive a wider range of services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility. Medicare patients can use telecommunication technology for office, hospital visits and other services that would typically have occurred previously in-person.

In Singapore telehealth platform provider, Heartvoice, have made their App widely available across the region for free to enable patients use an app on their tablet for remote patient monitoring. Patients can choose to share their vital signs with their doctor’s dashboard.

Tech Rises to Challenge

Technology is undoubtedly making it easier to enable healthcare workers and their patients avail of improved care in the community. Digital chatbots are now enabling doctor-less screening and video-visits can reduce the workloads on pressurized clinicians. Even the microphone on your smartphone when combined with an algorithm can be used to analyze your cough and a “smart connected thermometer” has been used as part of a program for early detection of flu and COVID-like outbreaks in Florida. Yet all these advances need to be considered in the broader context of patient confidentiality and the need to comply with regulations such as HIPAA and GDPR, which have been designed to enforce the principles of patient confidentiality and protect them from harm.

Hippocratic Oath Goes Digital – Protecting Patient Confidentiality

Doctors and medical professionals still take the Hippocratic Oath on qualifying. The oath is an expression of the medical ethics which they swear to uphold throughout their career and has been a cornerstone of medical practice for millennia. These ethics include the principles of medical confidentiality and non-maleficence (or do no harm). In a digital world, the need to adhere to the principles of the Hippocratic oath is as relevant as it ever was.

Sadly, the rise of the coronavirus has also been mirrored by an increase in the volume of cyberattacks targeting National Healthcare services, medical research bodies and ultimately patients. Meeting standards for privacy can be trickier with mobile healthcare provision in the community since data may be shared over the public internet. Private networks, where mobile data is routed off the public internet, are the key to overcoming these privacy and malware challenges. Private network services can enable healthcare organizations help their doctors and nurses continue to comply with Hippocratic principles, even in this digital world.

Digital Preparation for Future Pandemics

At Asavie we are proud to play a role in enabling a secure telehealth experience. We recently partnered with JACS Solutions to deliver customized telehealth solutions in the US which combines our private mobile network connectivity services with proven mobile hardware devices. As a  Microsoft Intelligent Security Association accredited partner we also support healthcare institutions leveraging Microsoft Endpoint Manager on their devices.

As a society we need to face up to the reality that it will take time for this pandemic to pass and acknowledge that pandemics will likely be a part of our future lives. By leveraging digital technologies and private networks now, we can prepare for the secure delivery of medical care into the future.

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