One of the biggest hurdles to virtual care adoption, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, continues to be establishing a reliable technological foundation, such as high-speed internet, widespread access to mobile devices, and a high-quality electricity supply. But even in high-income countries, getting the right infrastructure in place to support virtual care is a complex challenge.
Over the last few years, for example, healthcare IT infrastructures have been increasingly bombarded by network demands for large-scale initiatives such as digitizing patients’ health records or automating complex operational processes. The addition of virtual care systems, which typically combine video, audio and data streams, therefore runs the risk of exacerbating already sky-high bandwidth demands.
Then there’s the challenge of how to manage, and what to do with, the continuous influx of patient data that virtual care generates. In fact, in our latest Future Health Index report, healthcare leaders told us that two of the biggest barriers to the adoption of digital health technologies are data related: one being difficulties with data management (44%), and the other being lack of interoperability and data standards across technology platforms (37%).
At Philips, we see interoperability (the ability of multiple technologies to seamlessly connect with each other and share data in real time) as critical to the future of virtual care. For example, interoperability is necessary for tele-ICU – a solution that lets off-site clinicians interact remotely with bedside staff to consult on patient care. Tele-ICU relies on continuous data capture, plus advanced visualization technology and predictive analytics, in order to give intensivists and clinicians the power to weigh up probabilities and take the best courses of action at time-sensitive moments.
Similarly, interoperability is critical for supporting the further decentralization of patient management – for example, medical-grade wearables equipped with secure data integration can help ensure providers stay in-the-know and guide confident decision-making about whether a patient needs to be seen or be hospitalized. This means healthcare providers can help keep patients in a more comfortable, lower-cost setting and better allocate resources according to risk.
All things considered, there are unique infrastructure barriers across almost every region and community, from mobile device accessibility to data management and interoperability. That said, there are a few select markets where the path to permanence looks almost complete. In China for example, virtual care services are prevalent and have been permitted and administered since 2018, supported, catalyzed and scaled up thanks to the rollout of 5G networks.