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Technology in Health Care – Telemedicine, TeleHealth, and mHealth

I was a panelist at the 2014 International Medical Interpreters Association conference this past January in Houston. The panel discussion was entitled “Latest Technology and Impact on Interpreters.” I would like to share some thoughts and ideas that were discussed in Houston as well as some general observations about the use of technology in health care and in the interpreting industry as a whole.

The Future of Health
Accessibility through the use of technology has soared to new levels for the consumer/patient and for the provider/hospital staff. TeleHealth or mobile health (also known as mHealth) is the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status. Telemedicine includes a growing variety of applications and services using two-way video, email, smart phones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology.

Technology is Changing How We Treat Patients
If we think about technology and how it is changing the lives of patients and health care providers every day, we can envision this change on horizontal and vertical axes. On the horizontal axis, healthcare is moving outward. Services are moving out of large hospitals, out of big cities, out of urban areas – out into the areas where patients live and into their daily lives at home. This is occurring at an exponential rate through the use of technology.

On the vertical axis, healthcare is moving upward and downward through the collection and distribution of data. Health information and data is uploaded by providers to electronic medical records and other data collection systems. Smartphone and tablet applications are being constantly downloaded, and in many cases these APPs have become the key to accessibility for both patients and providers. Data is crucial for patient care and monitoring, either remotely or in the hospital setting. Data and health information is vital for patients to manage their own illnesses and medical conditions. The use of mobile devices by physicians to view patient information is now widespread in the US.

So What Does This Mean? Here are Some Interesting Statistics Since 2012 from HIT Consultant:

  • The collection of data at the bedside has increased from 30% to 45%.
  • Remote monitoring of data from medical devices has increase from 27% to 34%.
  • Allowing patients to access their own electronic medical records on a mobile device has increased from 32% to 36%.
  • 52% of us now gather health information on our smart phones.
  • 70% of the “most wired” hospitals in the U.S. now provide Telehealth.
  • Smartphones are #9 on the Health Tech Hazards list due to texting during surgery.

The Most Common Types of mHealth APPs Are:

  • Exercise, fitness, pedometer or heart rate monitor
  • Diet, food, calorie counters
  • Weight
  • Blood pressure
  • WebMD
  • Blood sugar
  • Medication management

Top Areas for Future Growth in the TeleHealth Market Include:

  • Home-based care and disease management
  • Remote physician or specialist services
  • Personal emergency response systems
  • Video diagnostic consultations
  • Remote cardiac services

Some of the Predictions for the Future with Health Care Technology Are:

  • 3 million people area expected to be using smartphone powered remote patient monitoring devices by 2016.
  • 44 million mobile health apps will be downloaded this year – 142 million will be downloaded in 2016.
  • The TeleHealth market will grow from the $7 million dollars spent in 2012 to $16 billion in 2016.

Technology Increasingly Drives How Language Services Are Used
If we think about language access and language services, data is a crucial factor in driving our profession forward. Data like a patient’s preferred language is necessary for the allocation of human resources, hiring and scheduling of interpreters, budgeting, and cost efficiency reporting. From the end-user’s perspective (the patient, provider, and manager or coordinator of languages services), the use of technology can provide better, easier, and faster access to services. In the future, we can only anticipate a continued increase in the use of video remote interpreting (VRI) which can be accessed via web-based solutions on PCs, smartphones, and tablets.

For interpreters in health care, the workplace will be enhanced and made easier by the use of new technology like VRI. Daily workloads will become more efficient as the stress and difficulties of onsite interpreter scheduling are decreased. Budgetary goals will also be met through the inclusion of technology. As the members of the IMIA Technology Division have observed, “Interpreters will not be replaced by technology. Interpreters will be replaced by other interpreters who use technology.”

We’re the Change that We Seek
Technology is definitely all about change. This change is happening in our society, in our personal lives, in our professional lives, and most importantly for us, in health care and in the field of medical interpreting. The exciting part is that we are on the cusp of this change, and as medical interpreters and language service providers, we get to experience this groundbreaking technology first hand. Take a look at one of the most important quotes of this new millennium as spoken by President Barack Obama, “Change won’t come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. We’re the change that we seek.” Many times, our own fears stand in the way of embracing new and important change.

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