Technological Advances Promise to Elevate Telemedicine to New Level

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Researchers are developing interactive health data visualization software for large multi-touch displays.

Development of more sophisticated technologies involving large multi-touch displays could transform the way doctors and patients communicate by telemedicine. Instead of remaining passive recipients, patients could provide more data when appropriate and play a more active role in the healing process. Additionally, patients may retain health information more readily if it’s shared in a visual way.

Fateme Rajabiyazdi, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Systems and Computer Engineering at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, is part of a Canadian team developing health information visualization software for large, multi-touch displays. These displays can be positioned upright like a television, or at the touch of a button, slide flat like a table. It’s a hardware and software innovation with the potential to improve communication between patients and health care professionals and foster more collaborative, data-driven decisions.

Decision-Making Support

“We need to change the way clinical offices and the communication dynamic in a clinic occur,” Dr Rajabiyazdi said. “One solution to address these challenges is to bring technology to facilitate patient-clinician communication. We expect our interactive large tabletop and interactive health data visualization technologies will support patients in clinical decision-making. The design of these technologies will be done by having patients in the loop to make sure patients find it useful and easy to use.”

With recent advances in technology, the displays can have fast, accurate, reliable, robust and unlimited touch functionality. They also can accommodate interaction by multiple users and different mediums. Users can touch with gloves or ungloved fingers as well as pens, allowing many people to work simultaneously.

More Patient Involvement

“With our proposed technology, patients can look at their whole data and get involved in their care,” Dr Rajabiyazdi said. “By having patients involved in their care, we can expect to have more effective data communication, which can improve patient knowledge, cultivate a shared understanding of treatment plans and care decisions between patients and their clinicians, and increase patient agency and compliance with treatment plans, thus resulting in fewer medical errors and better patient health outcomes.”

Many new apps and platforms are available, but it’s challenging to integrate them because clinicians are busy and patients can be in a vulnerable situation, Dr Rajabiyazdi said. With the rise of self-monitoring devices for blood pressure and glucose levels, as well Fitbits and other gadgets that record things such as heart rate and calories burned, people increasingly have an array of data that could inform their diagnoses and treatment plans. But it needs to be meshed with the test results and other risk factors.

Spencer Dorn, MD, MPH, vice chair of the Department of Medicine and a professor in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said some patients like telemedicine and want to continue using it. “Telemedicine is a channel that can make care more accessible, affordable, pleasant, and even effective,” Dr Dorn said. “But it all depends on the context and reason for care. Patients with certain conditions should be evaluated in person.”

Potential Uses

Anne Chiang, MD, PhD, a member of National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s Guidelines Panel for Small Cell Lung Cancer and an associate professor at Yale Cancer Center/Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut, said the challenge with the latest technology is how best to integrate it into the regular workflow. “It would be great to show my patients large clinical study data,” Dr Chiang said. “Now, I have to click through all the data. It would be nice to have a display of how their tumor started and how it shrank. It would be nice to show them in a 3D form. That would be fantastic.” Dr Chiang noted that costs and training could be barriers to adoption. “You have to know how to troubleshoot when something doesn’t work for the patients,” Dr Chiang said.

The physician entering data is a frequent problem with electronic medical records because clinicians are more focused on entering data than examining and listening to the patient. “This novel interactive health data visualization may replace, in a very cool way, physicians drawing diagrams and mapping out plans, but the most important thing is a health care worker who wants to communicate and can communicate in language that the patient can understand,” said Catherine Clase, MB, BChir, MSc, professor of medicine at McMaster’s University in Montreal, Canada. “Accessing a video or using an interactive website is very useful for many patients but requires a degree of digital literacy that older patients or those with cognitive impairment may lack.”

If telemedicine is more than a phone call or video call, it could include home blood pressure monitoring by the patient or caregiver, a physical exam by a health care worker in the patient’s home, according to Dr Clase. Clinicians could in real-time download data from continuous glucose monitoring or analyze photos of wounds. This could be coupled with devices that detect atrial fibrillation or hyperkalemia. “For these new technologies, we will need to look at clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness as rigorously as if we were talking about drugs,” Dr Clase said.

This article originally appeared on Renal and Urology News