When the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in July it had levied criminal charges against 36 defendants across the country for more than $1.2 billion in alleged fraudulent telemedicine and other health care schemes, it became the latest in an ongoing series of criminal behavior by scammers in this arena caught by the federal government.
When Intermountain Healthcare’s call centers became overwhelmed in March 2020 with people asking about COVID-19 symptoms, the team turned to artificial intelligence, the Washington Post reported. Specifically, a chatbot — a computer program designed to simulate human conversation called Scout. The technology allowed people to describe their symptoms while the chatbot matched their responses to possible diagnoses to ask relevant follow-up questions or suggest actions for the patient to take.
It’s one of several technologies that were greatly accelerated during the pandemic and continue to be gaining ground in the face of an ongoing pandemic, an aging population, shrinking caregivers, health care worker burnout and resignations, and other factors.
Journalists can find interesting stories by investigating the various uses of chatbots, robots, and other virtual caregiver technologies being trialed or used by health systems, senior homes or others. But beyond the wow factor, it’s always good to maintain a critical eye to ask questions about costs, ease of use, accuracy, and if the intended audiences like them or find them helpful.
When the Biden Administration rolled out two COVID-19 rapid tests programs in mid-January, Kaiser Health News reporters Victoria Knight and Hannah Recht were separately researching the initiatives, including one that allowed Americans to get free tests through the U.S. Postal Service. Their reporting included interviewing experts and gathering U.S. Census Bureau data about health equity measures such as home-based internet subscription rates.
The behind-the-scenes reporting illustrates how some stories are rooted in social media serendipity and collaboration. In this “How I Did It,” Knight and Recht explain how the article came together and why the data they compiled suggested that millions of Americans — mainly Black, Hispanic and Native American, and Alaska Native people — could face significant challenges in getting the rapid tests. (The following conversation was edited for clarity and brevity.)
Many of us have experienced how telehealth works today: Log on to a secure website and talk to your doctor or another care provider via video. But the technology is only predicted to expand and become more detailed over the next decade, according to recent news reports.
Journalists can find interesting stories on this topic by looking at current and predicted trends such as hybrid care combining in-person and virtual components, niche telehealth programs for specialty populations, and remote physical exams in which physicians will incorporate data collected by remote tools like glucose monitors, bathroom scales and spirometers (instruments to measure air capacity in the lungs).
Virtual care “helped define the pandemic” in many ways, Mike Brandofino, CEO of telehealth technology and services company Caregility, told Healthcare IT News in a recent article. “We witnessed a spectrum of solutions take place…from switching to Zoom for doctor appointments to health care professionals putting baby monitors in rooms to monitor patients, minimizing the use of dwindling PPE (personal protective equipment) supplies while reducing the number of times a caregiver had to enter a COVID unit.”
Telehealth wasn’t the only health care technology that took off during the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote patient monitoring — the use of mobile devices to monitor patient vital signs at home, plus in-home or virtual visits by health care providers — also has increased due to the public health emergency.
Before the pandemic, a big challenge for remote monitoring was helping large health care organizations, systems and plans to prioritize implementing virtual care technologies beyond just a pilot phase, Drew Schiller, co-founder and CEO of the technology firm Validic, said during a recent webinar hosted by the American Telemedicine Association.
“We were stuck in this endless cycle of trying things,” Schiller said. But once the pandemic hit, remote monitoring, telehealth and other technologies “immediately jumped to the forefront” and showed everyone how they could be used to scale remote care,” he said: “It was obviously a regrettable circumstance … but from a health care technology perspective, it has advanced the industry at least five years, if not a full decade, in a very short amount of time. Continue reading