Telemedicine exploded during the pandemic, after years of slowly gaining traction. Companies are now capitalizing on this momentum to usher in the next wave of remote health, moving beyond simple doctor chats to a high-tech world of healthcare access without ever leaving the house.
“The pandemic really supported new ways for remote monitoring, creation and development of devices,” said Dr. John Batsis, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “When there’s consumer need, there’s going to be startups and equity and businesses that are trying to meet those needs.”
Tyto Care, an on-demand medical exam company that aims to replicate in-person visits with home medical kits, is one company rethinking televisits. Dedi Gilad, the company’s CEO and co-founder, came up with the idea eight years ago while his daughter was suffering from recurrent ear and throat infections. “I found myself doing a lot of unnecessary travels to the pediatrician to really take care of her,” he told CNN. “And then the thinking was, how can I make this entire interaction from home?”
Doctors can remotely monitor symptoms in a patient’s ears, heart, lungs, and throat, as well as take basic vital signs, using Tyto Care kits. The devices, which have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, have small built-in cameras that allow doctors to virtually see inside the ears or throat, aiding in the diagnosis of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
While the kits were designed with children in mind, demand from adults increased dramatically during the pandemic. Tyto Care’s home diagnostic kits have seen a 500 percent increase in consumer demand — and a 400 percent increase in physician demand — in recent months, according to Gilad, and have been used by 350,000 patients.
Meanwhile, Sanford Health in the Midwest, the country’s largest rural health care system, has adopted a similar strategy. Rather than adapting devices for remote use, doctors taught patients how to record their results at home using the same tools they used during in-person visits.
According to Sanford Health, “home monitoring kits” with a fetal ultrasound monitor and a blood pressure cuff were distributed to patients with low-risk pregnancies, allowing women to use virtual care for nearly a third of their prenatal care visits during the pandemic.
“One of the advantages of telehealth is that it actually can help the patient access it, importantly, in rural areas where it often takes individuals an hour or two hours to get to a healthcare facility,” said Dr. Batsis. “It saves them all that time, all that energy, all that money.”
Other telemedicine startups, such as Kiira in Los Angeles, are focusing on increasing access to underserved areas. The company’s virtual care app, which connects women to primary care providers, OB-GYNs, mental health experts, and more via phone, video, and chat 24 hours a day, seven days a week, aims to bridge the healthcare gap for women in college, particularly women of color.
“Black and brown women historically have had a lot of barriers to healthcare, some of which are costs or access to care or even access to providers of color,” said Crystal Adesanya, founder and CEO of Kiira Health. “A lot of times, students don’t feel comfortable going in because they do not see a provider who looks like them. … Being able to see someone who you can relate with, and be able to talk to a provider from the comfort of your home, is one of the things that has been lacking for a very long time.”
Virtual visits can be conducted, prescriptions can be written, and lab tests can be ordered through the app. Kiira’s monthly cost is covered by colleges, so students don’t have to pay for it. It currently serves four colleges and approximately 3,000 students, with plans to grow to 22,000 students later this year.
Spora Heath, another affordable telemedicine startup, focuses on providing a primary care network for African-Americans. The $10-per-month service requires its physicians, 90 percent of whom are people of color, to complete “culture-competence training” and workshops in order to better understand and support the communities they serve.
People will resume daily activities in person, including doctor visits, as vaccines continue to roll out across the United States and economies reopen. But that doesn’t rule out the possibility of telemedicine and remote monitoring.
“These technologies are going to be integrally important in managing patient’s health now and in the future,” said Dr. Batsis. “I think it’s only going to get better and the technology is going to get better.”