How next-generation communication technologies can improve access to care and care delivery — 4 takeaways

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the healthcare industry moved quickly, leveraging technology to expand access to care, particularly by ramping up telehealth. But, as Dr. Christine Gall, industry segment advisor for T-Mobile for Business, pointed out, "The solutions cobbled together with very little advance notice probably aren't a sustainable model." Organizations are now looking to optimize solutions and leverage new capabilities like 5G to improve access, enhance collaboration and better use data to improve care delivery.

Dr. Gall's comments came during a virtual roundtable session sponsored by T-Mobile as part of at the Becker's Hospital Review 9th Annual CEO & CFO Roundtable in November. During the roundtable, participants discussed how communications technologies were used during the pandemic and how next-generation technologies will further transform care delivery. 

Four takeaways:

  1. Technology is dramatically expanding access to care. Providers are using technology to meet patients where they are. Dr. Michael Hochman, CEO of SCAN Group’s Healthcare in Action, a new medical group that will provide "street medicine" to homeless individuals in a mobile medical van, said finding and connecting with patients is one of his organization's biggest challenges. To address this problem, the organization provides patients free mobile phones along with data plans (from T-Mobile) and solar chargers.

Other participants leveraging technology to improve access included a provider in rural North Carolina that offers patients iPads; a company that communicates with geriatric patients through their televisions, with a goal of keeping these individuals out of the hospital; and a provider network in the Midwest looking at "exam-enabled video visits" where a remote exam would be conducted using technology that allows a provider to hear lung and heart sounds and see into a patient's ears, nose and throat. 

2. A technology with multiple uses in healthcare is text messaging. At a children's hospital in the Northwest, providers have found adolescent patients often prefer communicating via text because it is easy and private. However, texting has applicability beyond adolescents. It has high adoption, is comfortable for patients and is being used for applications such as appointment reminders. T-Mobile has partner resources to ensure that these communications occur in a safe, HIPAA compliant environment.

3. 5G has great potential. Baron Kuehlewind, an industry segment advisor at T-Mobile for Business, explained, "With 5G, it's speed, it's reduced latency, it's access in rural areas — we're going to be able to improve all of those scenarios." Reduced latency is particularly important, for example, in robotic surgery. 5G also has applications within health networks, in rapidly transmitting huge amounts of data.

4. Deriving value from technology requires integration and behavioral change. The powerful technologies of the current and future only have value if there is security and the ability to connect technologies and integrate data. Mr. Kuehlewind stressed the importance of standards and vendor agnostic devices. "We have to look at integration and care transitions," Dr. Gall said, "and how we integrate knowledge and data communication to the entire team" to ensure that all members of the care team have access to the most current information for optimal decision making.

5G: Capable device req'd; coverage not available in some areas. Some uses may require certain plan or feature; see T-Mobile.com.

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