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Virtual Care: What’s in store.

We find ourselves in an age where technology has been infused into seemingly every aspect of civilization, to the extent that we are confounded when we stumble across a facet of life that isn’t catered to by it. But before this may be dismissed as criticism of our addiction to convenience, we must realize that severe health exacerbations were the price paid by many to reach this self-realization amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. 

An unprecedented time that saw many non-emergency clinics shutting down around the world, millions of people who relied on these facilities (de-addiction centers, autoimmune disease therapy, and dentistry to name but a few) were in distress. While our science fiction compels us to dream of fusing our consciousness with machines and turn into immortal cyborgs, the cold hard truth is that we continue to be vulnerable to our environment, and are simply too mortal. 

This drubbing we suffered at the hands of mother nature was a rude awakening for the world of healthcare, no different for the IT world. However, this has been a phase of renaissance for health IT and the mHealth domain; adoption rates have skyrocketed since the beginning of lockdowns in the US. Studies conducted in Asia bolsters the faith, with all respondents in Malaysia claiming that they use one health/wellness app or the other, with 78.6% saying they are currently using COVID-19 related applications. Malaysia unveiled its flagship TraceTogether app in its fight against the pandemic, the first of its kind across the world as early as March 2020.  

It is therefore important at this juncture, to understand mHealth at a rarefied level. In understanding its role we must probe its 3 main functions today: 

· to connect citizens with the health system and provide superlative technological innovation 

· to support teaching, training, and related health activities in an exemplary manner 

· this point is specific to the pandemic; to control the rampant spread of COVID-19 and provide mHealth solutions for the same 

Virtual care             

It is necessary to make a distinction between telemedicine and virtual care. While telemedicine refers to the remote treatment of a certain health condition, virtual care is a bracket term for all remote interactions by healthcare professions to engage with their patients. It could include even the act of maintaining feedback from a patient over mail. Recent times have witnessed a jump in the proliferation of apps with this function; they may include risk calculators, fitness trackers, remote patient-monitoring, pharmaceutical e-commerce, and many more. While their payoff is monumental, data security continues to be the elephant in the room. People must realize that while they do indicate primary diagnosis, it is important not to make clinical decisions and adopt treatment based on these diagnoses; the apps themselves must take steps to alert the users on the same to prevent misdiagnosis and other mishaps.  

Digital therapeutics 

Presumably the most exciting area in virtual care, the phrase evokes futuristic archetypes in the mind, which unfortunately is no coincidence; experts predict that It may take another decade to develop technology that can provide measurable and not to mention, the sustainable outcome in patient health. Though today, we are offered nothing more than a cracker to quench our thirst, it is still exciting to see the quantum leaps we have made. While we are struggling to integrate technology into the treatment and therapeutic methods of most diseases, researchers have made enterprising inroads in treating mental disorders through DTx.  

Look no further than be award-winning gameChange app, with its ambitious goal to treat psychosis patients through VR. The addictive and engaging nature of digital media can act as an antidote for people suffering from mood disorders, manic depression, and the early stages of many neurotic disorders. It may even be argued that remote counseling is an ideal option for people with psychological disturbances, as they can be engaged within the comfort of their dwellings. 

Implementation 

It is important to remember that while a healthy person demands a million things, the sick man desires the fulfillment of a lone wish; empathy for the patients is what most companies give little thought for. mHealth apps must be built with minimal ads and distractions that can sway the interest of clients, and must constantly reinvent and update themselves for a seamless patient experience.   

While we embrace the future for what it’s worth, our efforts must augur with the collective patient psyche; they should feel tangible and personal, even to the Luddite, and personified by the client, and maintain a physical and psychological relevance that can materialize into observable therapeutic progress. 

Aakash Binu

An undergraduate student of science , Aakash is a fledgling to the world of IT. He is an aspiring content creator, drawing inspiration from sources as varied as music and mountaineering. Through his work, he tries to bring together the scientific zeal in technical writing and the creativity of literature and the arts.

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