After years of slowly gaining traction, telemedicine exploded during the pandemic. Now companies are using that momentum to usher in the next wave of remote health, by moving beyond just chats with doctors to a high-tech world of healthcare access without leaving the home.
“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.”
One company rethinking televisits is Tyto Care, an on-demand medical exam company that aims to replicate in-person visits with home medical kits. CEO and co-founder Dedi Gilad came up with the concept eight years ago when his daughter suffered from recurring 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?”
Tyto Care kits allow doctors to remotely monitor symptoms in a patient’s ears, heart, lungs, and throat, as well as take basic vital signs. The devices, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, have small built-in cameras so doctors can virtually see inside the ears or throat, and help identify cardiovascular respiratory conditions.
While the kits were originally developed for pediatric use, interest among adults surged during the pandemic. Gilad said demand for Tyto Care’s home diagnostic kits among consumers increased 500% – and 400% by physicians – in recent months and has been used by 350,000 patients to date.
Meanwhile, Sanford Health in the Midwest – the largest rural health care system in the country – has taken a similar approach. However, instead of modifying devices for remote use, doctors taught patients how to use the same tools used for in-person visits to record their results at home.
For patients with low-risk pregnancies, Sanford Health issued its own “home monitoring kits,” which included a fetal ultrasound monitor and a blood pressure cuff, making it possible for women to use virtual care for nearly a third of their prenatal care visits during the pandemic, according to Sanford Health.
“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 Los Angeles-based Kiira, are focusing on expanding access to underserved communities. The company’s virtual care app – which connects women to primary care providers, OB-GYN’s, mental health experts and more, 24/7 via phone, video and chat – wants to help close the healthcare gap for women in college, especially 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.”
Physicians on the app can conduct virtual visits and provide prescriptions or order lab tests through the platform. Colleges cover the monthly cost of Kiira, so the care is free for students. It currently works with four colleges and about 3,000 students, and has plans to expand up to 22,000 students later this year.
Startup Spora Heath is also a affordable telemedicine service but focuses on providing a primary care network for Black Americans. The newly-launched service, which costs $10 a month, requires its physicians – 90% of whom are people of color – to take “culture-competence training” and workshops so they better understand and support the communities they serve.
As vaccines continue to roll out across the United States and economies reopen, people will resume daily activities in person, including doctor visits. But that doesn’t mean telemedicine and remote monitoring will go away.
“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.”