What if the future is more accessible and convenient because of integrated healthcare? Telemedicine is utilizing technology to connect medical teams with patients and their records. Now and in the future, healthcare teams will ensure patients have access to the most up-to-date treatment options — both in and out of the office. Medical teams will work more closely with each other to ensure patients have all their symptoms examined from a physical as well as a psychological point of view — making patient care more likely to be comprehensive and accessible.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Integrated Care combines primary health care and mental health care in one setting.” The combination of the two types of care is crucial because, as NAMI notes, people with chronic physical illnesses often also have higher rates of mental health issues. Imagine, for example, a patient with a stage IV cancer: that person will almost certainly be at higher risk for depression and anxiety than the general population.
Neil Smiley points out three trends in virtual healthcare integration: community coalitions, narrow networks, and evidence-based models. For example, Fast Company recently published a story on Meridian Health, a consortium of healthcare providers that serve low-income populations in King County, Seattle. Because of the collaborative effort, patients are able to see more than one provider in the same location, rather than being forced to travel all over the city.
While electronic health records were just picking up steam in 2014, now — on the verge of 2018 — digital EHRs are fast-becoming the national standard for fast communication of patient data across different healthcare providers and specialists working with the same patient. As a result, wearable tech continues to grow in popularity and use.
The future of healthcare includes telemedicine, fast interoperability, IoT connectedness, liquid biopsies, and vocal biomarkers — among other medical technologies. Liquid biopsies, according to Go Health UC, require “only a blood sample test for ctDNA, the DNA released into the bloodstream by tumors.” With such medical technology coming to the forefront, it’s only logical to streamline our medical health records in a more technologically-savvy manner. Urgent care centers are also implementing telemedicine to make appointment requests and waiting times more efficient.
Because there is still a stigma associated with mental health care, it can be tricky getting some patients to want to see a specialist. In many cases, integrated care can be the catalyst for getting these patients the professional care they need. If it is as simple as connecting with a therapist via phone, approaching someone for help is likely to be less intimidating and more accessible. According to Regis College, nurse educators now teach students about tools such as client safety planning, cognitive behavioral therapy, coping skills training, group therapy, and mental health evaluations.
By the time those nursing students are part of an integrated medical team, they address medical and mental health conjunctively: such was the experience of Colleen Clemency Cordes, the director of Arizona State University’s Doctor of Behavioral Health program. It now seems surprising that patients with chronic health conditions like diabetes or depression weren’t treated using an integrated approach just five years ago.
However, perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to increased access to mental health care is the patients themselves. According to the World Health Organization, 15 percent of adults aged 60 or older suffer from a mental disorder such as dementia or depression. Part of why these mental health problems tend to be under-identified is because people are sometimes reluctant to seek help due to related stigma attached to these conditions. This is why the increasing prevalence of telemedicine is an encouraging trend in the treatment of whole-body health. Tele-counseling — or counseling conducted remotely via smartphone or computer — could potentially bridge a major gap in the effective treatment of mental health. As a result, the mainstreaming of telemedicine could render everyday barriers such as transportation, cultural stigma, and limited mobility less overwhelming for all involved.
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Perhaps the future will allow us all to access any healthcare provider with the touch of a proverbial button. Until then, the gradual integration of human-based healthcare teams with remote technology will ease the transition toward a more virtual world that is, ironically, more human and compassionate than the real-life waiting rooms of the past.