The Total Telecare Guide: Remote Patient Care in the Digital Age

In this guide to telecare, we’ll cover telecare in-depth – as well as important related terms, such as telemedicine and telehealth.

Whether you are a patient or a healthcare provider, this guide will offer insight into…

  • The meaning of telecare, telehealth, telemedicine 
  • How these meanings differ from country to country
  • The pros and cons of telecare
  • Whether telecare is suitable for everyone
  • How organizations can begin implementing telecare systems

And much more.

We’ll start by learning what telecare is and how it fits into the modern healthcare system.

Telecare: Definitions and Key Concepts

Telecare is only one of several healthcare fields that leverage technology to care for patients remotely.

Here are three important terms to be aware of when researching telecare:

Telecare

Generally speaking, telecare refers to the use of technology to provide remote monitoring and assistance to patients, often with an emphasis on elderly or vulnerable populations.

Here are several definitions of telecare that are in use as of this writing:

  • “Telecare is the continuous, automatic and remote monitoring of real time emergencies and lifestyle changes over time in order to manage the risks associated with independent living” – Telecareaware.com
  • “Care offered to patients remotely via telecommunications technology, either through synchronous (live video) or asynchronous means (store-and-forward, remote patient monitoring).” – eVisit
  • “Telecare is essentially care delivered at a distance through the use of technology.” – Telecare.ie
  • “Telecare is a monitoring service that offers remote support to elderly, disabled and vulnerable people who live alone in their own homes.” –Telecare Choice

In short, telecare is a monitoring service that can help to improve the quality of life for those patients who need ongoing monitoring and support.

Telemedicine

Telemedicine refers to providing remote treatment for patients, including – but not limited to – telecare.

Solutions that fall within the field of telemedicine can include:

  • Remote monitoring of patients. By adopting the right technology, such as remote sensors, it is possible to track important patient information at a distance. Tracking patient vital signs and patient movements, for instance, gives providers the ability to monitor important health information without being physically present. As we will discover later, this capability allows patients to receive low-cost medical support – and it is this technology that also fuels much of the telecare industry.
  • Online consultations with healthcare providers. Real-time consultations are what most of us imagine when thinking about telemedicine. The ability to consult with physicians over the internet and receive remote treatment is certainly one of the most valuable aspects of telemedicine, but it is not the only one. 
  • Using technology to connect multiple providers into a single network. In the past, when patients or doctors wanted to receive medical records, they needed to contact the original healthcare provider in order to acquire those records. And in some cases, this is still true today. However, with the advent of the internet and encryption technology, medical providers can access and receive encrypted files quickly and efficiently, decreasing administrative costs and inefficiencies within the healthcare system.
  • Providing specialized care in non-specialized clinical settings. Smaller clinics, such as those in rural areas, don’t have the same capabilities as specialized providers in larger facilities. Yet with the right connection and the right tools, such as real-time video and remote monitoring systems, larger providers can offer specialized care through smaller clinics that lack specific specializations.

Other modern technological developments, such as robotics and remote surgery, can also be used to provide remote treatment to patients.

Telecare certainly falls within the purview of telemedicine, though, as mentioned, telecare tends to focus specifically on improving the quality of life for patients via remote monitoring services, rather than on remote clinical treatment.

Telehealth

Telehealth expands its definition even further to include organizational operations that support telemedicine.

This term includes:

  • Remote care. Remote care services, such as telecare and telemedicine, are the main aim of telehealth services. However, these are only the business functions that come into direct contact with patients. They would not be possible without supporting technologies and business services.
  • The technologies used to provide telecare and telemedicine. Quite a few technologies and systems are required to support and deliver telemedicine, such as remote monitoring systems, encryption, video streaming, robotics, and so forth. 
  • The business operations dedicated to supporting telemedicine and remote care. There are plenty of other business functions that support telemedicine and telecare, above and beyond the physicians themselves. IT, administrative functions, and others are all necessary to the successful implementation of telemedicine and telecare – and those business functions fall under the umbrella of telehealth.

All of the terms mentioned here clearly overlap and are interdependent.

For the patient who is interested in receiving care, understanding this difference can be useful when researching care providers. But for healthcare organizations, understanding this distinction is, of course, much more important – after all, they will be the ones actually providing care for their patients. 

Telecare, Digital Transformation, and the Changing Healthcare Field

Digital adoption in healthcare is hindered by government regulations, the sheer complexity of healthcare organizations, concerns for patient safety and health, and a number of other obstacles.

However, despite these hurdles, digital transformation will undoubtedly continue to transform healthcare in ways that we are only beginning to comprehend. 

Below, we’ll look at how some of these major trends and how they will develop in the coming years.

The Internet and Mobile Technology

The internet and mobile technology have opened up new possibilities when it comes to treatment and healthcare.

Mobile devices, for instance, allow patients to…

  • Track certain vital signs. Vital signs are measurements of basic body functions, such as heart rate or body temperature. With the right equipment, these signals can be tracked remotely, allowing providers to effectively monitor patient health, even if there are no staff present. In cases where patients need monitoring – but not direct human supervision – this can be a useful way to track the health of certain patient populations.
  • Stay in touch with healthcare providers. Mobile apps are easily accessible from smartphones or other mobile devices, such as smartwatches. These apps can provide a convenient way for patients to communicate directly with physicians, follow a prescribed treatment program, and more. 
  • Receive remote treatment and monitoring. It is only thanks to the internet that physicians are able to provide real-time remote care to patients. With remote monitoring systems in place, physicians can track vital signs and other data, then use that information to deliver real-time remote care.

It is certain that the internet and mobile devices are set to alter the healthcare landscape in the near future, improving remote care even further, especially when we include technological innovations such as the Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the connection of various devices to the internet.

These devices can include sensors, mobile phones, cameras, and so forth. 

In telecare and telemedicine, the most pertinent applications would revolve around medical equipment, such as:

  • Devices that monitor patient health. These can include wearable devices, such as pendants or bracelets, which include sensors that track vital signs. Or they can include systems and sensors embedded into the environment, such as sensors inside beds or sensors placed elsewhere within the room.
  • Alert systems. Alerts can be automatically triggered if monitoring systems send abnormal signals. For instance, if patients don’t return to bed when they are supposed to or if vital signs are abnormal, monitoring systems can automatically send alerts to physicians. Providers can then attempt to contact patients or send help if required.
  • Robotics and other medical equipment. IoT adds a new infrastructure and entirely new capabilities to the medical care environment. Robotics and robots, for instance, can be used to provide care to patients remotely, through surgery or even basic everyday care – but IoT is a prerequisite for such functions.

As healthcare machinery becomes more integrated with the internet, telemedicine’s capabilities will continue to accelerate.

Among the most promising technologies:

Robotics

Robotics offers a number of potential benefits within healthcare and telehealth, such as:

  • Robotic surgery systems. Robotic surgery systems are machines that can be used to perform surgery on patients. These systems are currently used today, since they can provide extra levels of precision, reduce the invasiveness of surgical procedures, and so forth. Today, though, these systems are typically used by surgeons operating in the same location as patients. 
  • Equipment that allows surgeons to operate remotely. Surgical systems have also been successfully tested and used from afar, leading many to speculate that remote surgery may become far more common in the future. With systems such as these, it is possible to perform surgeries on patients at remote locations, further expanding the reach of specialized medical care.
  • Robot caregivers. Robots that provide patient care are receiving more funding in certain parts of the world, such as Japan. Today’s telecare systems are a far cry from robotic caregivers, though they may become much more widespread, especially given their benefits: they reduce the workload for already-overworked caregivers, increase patient happiness, and improve the quality of life for those in need.

Will robots eventually replace nurses – and even doctors?

It is highly unlikely.

However, we will certainly see an increased application of robotic technology within the medical industry. Though robots may become a more common sight hospital corridors, human doctors will certainly never vanish completely.

Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Big data is the term used to describe massive data sets, the analysis of which can offer a number of benefits in virtually every field, including healthcare.

In the medical industry, for example, big data can be used to:

  • Gain insight into patient populations and needs
  • Improve diagnostic and prognostic accuracy
  • Train artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms
  • Improve the operations of healthcare organizations

Data-driven business practices go hand-in-hand with the other technological developments covered here and help to fuel their growth.

With the right data and the right mobile technology, for instance, telecare providers can provide services that are even more personalized, relevant, and, most importantly, useful for patients.

The Role of Humans in Telecare

Telecare and telemedicine will certainly change the dynamic between humans and machines, but they will certainly never replace human healthcare workers.

There are certain professions that may become significantly displaced due to technology, such as radiologists, but this does not mean that human healthcare workers will be completely replaced.

Though investments are being made in robot care workers, for instance, these robot workers will likely complement and support overworked healthcare staff – not replace them.

Instead, like most other professions, digital technology will most likely augment and automate certain portions of the industry.

With proper foresight and implementation, digital technology has the potential to not only improve the quality of healthcare services, but also to improve the working environment for medical workers.

Likewise, telecare will not replace the need for home care workers – it will instead allow those workers to focus their efforts where it is needed most, while improving the quality of life for elderly and vulnerable patient populations.

Telecare: Pros, Cons, and Considerations

Telecare solutions comes with benefits and drawbacks, so it pays to consider these carefully before investing in a telecare solution.

Benefits of Telecare

There are a number of reasons why patients would want to receive telecare services:

  • Responsive, immediate care. Telecare allows patients to stay in constant contact with providers, without the need for ongoing human supervision. Thanks to digital technology and the connectivity provided by the internet, patients can receive passive supervision, yet still receive on-demand care when needed. 
  • Increased levels of independence. The freedom and independence provided by telecare is an enormous benefit for certain patient populations. Elderly patients and other vulnerable populations, for instance, often need a certain amount of monitoring, but not constant supervision. Telecare gives them that level of care, without infringing on their independence or dignity. 
  • Affordability. Human-supervised care can be extraordinarily expensive. And when it is unnecessary, this expense can be difficult to justify. However, telecare strikes the right balance between patient monitoring and in-person care, allowing them to receive care that is both adequate and affordable.
  • A better quality of life. Ultimately, all of these benefits translate into a better quality of life, as well as a higher quality of care. 

Healthcare organizations that adopt telecare solutions can also receive a number of benefits, such as:

  • Improved patient engagement. When convenience is an issue, patient engagement will often drop. This is often true for elderly patients and patients who live in rural areas, for instance. Since telecare can be provided remotely, it will often increase engagement from patient populations such as these.
  • An affordable way to provide on-demand care. Costs for providers are also lower, since there are fewer administrative costs and equipment costs. When providing real-time consultations online, for example, physicians are able to provide treatment without incurring any of the costs associated with in-house treatment.
  • More manageable workloads for staff. Staff workloads also decrease when providing remote care, which can improve the work environment, decrease stress, and even improve turnover associated with difficult working conditions.
  • New revenue streams. The ability to provide remote treatment can also open up new revenue opportunities for businesses. A telecare program, for example, can add a completely new revenue stream for providers that have traditionally focused on in-person care.

In short, there are plenty of reasons to adopt telecare solutions, even when considering the drawbacks.

Drawbacks and Considerations

When used properly, telecare can dramatically improve patient care and help healthcare organizations keep pace with disruptive change and digital transformation.

However, telecare is not a universally applicable solution – there are limitations.

For instance:

  • Today, telecare is restricted to remote monitoring, not treatment
  • Telecare is not appropriate for patients that require continuous human supervision
  • Over-reliance on telecare should be avoided
  • Telecare requires a certain amount of digital literacy on the part of staff

In short, it is important to stay aware of telecare’s limitations when implementing them. As long as these limitations are well understood, patients and providers can both make the most of this healthcare revolution.

Types of Telecare Technology

Telecare technology falls into a number of categories, which include:

Sensor Systems

Sensors embedded into a patient’s environment can track important information, such as:

  • Vital signs
  • The patient’s location
  • Whether the patient is sleeping or not

Systems such as these are essential parts of a telecare solution, since those sensors help providers monitor patients’ activity and health in real-time.

Prediction Systems

Prediction systems rely on data and algorithms to analyze patient behavior and predict problems before they actually occur. 

This data can include:

  • Past medical history
  • Patients’ vital signs
  • Symptoms 
  • Sleep and movement patterns
  • Medical incidents

All of this information can dramatically aid in the prevention of problems and the treatment of existing conditions.

Mobile Alert Systems

A mobile alert system is a device, such as a pendant or a wristband, that patients can activate in the moment of need.

These devices can then contact medical providers, who can respond by sending help or contacting the patient.

Mobile alert devices can also be programmed to automatically contact providers when certain criteria are met – if, for instance, the patient doesn’t return to bed within a certain time frame.

Like sensor systems, mobile alert systems are crucial pieces of the telecare process.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Telecare

To better understand telecare, let’s answer some of the most commonly asked questions about this discipline.

How popular is telecare?

Telemedicine and telehealth have both become more popular in recent years as technology continues to advance. Ongoing digital transformation in healthcare promise to deliver countless new benefits … and digital innovation may even end up revolutionizing the healthcare industry all together.

Therefore, as digital transformation continues to accelerate, so too will the popularity of telemedicine and telehealth-related fields.

However, the popularity of the term “telecare” itself has remained somewhat steady over the past several years, at least according to Google’s search data.

That data also suggests that the term “telecare” is more widely used in some countries than in others.

The United Kingdom, for instance, tends to use the term “telecare” more than the United States. While in the United States, terms such as telemedicine remain more standard – though on the west coast, “telecare” does see more use than in the rest of the country.

Given the differences in the meanings of “telecare,” as covered above, it will be interesting to see how these terms continue to evolve over time.

Regardless of the popularity of the individual terms, though, we will certainly continue to see the evolution and ongoing popularization of telehealth, telemedicine, telecare, and related sub-disciplines.

Is telecare suitable for all patients?

Generally, telecare is most appropriate for patients who need ongoing monitoring, but not constant supervision.

These can include:

  • Elderly patients who are still mobile and independent, but require ongoing monitoring
  • Patients who are chronically ill, disabled, or who can otherwise benefit from remote monitoring
  • Those with mental conditions or illnesses that can benefit from on-demand contact and monitoring

However, as mentioned, telecare alone may not be enough for patients that require greater supervision. Naturally, telecare may form a part of their overall coverage – but, if necessary, that coverage should be augmented with other forms of treatment, such as in-person care.

Which organizations should adopt telecare?

Telecare can be useful for any healthcare organization that provides ongoing treatment to vulnerable populations.

A few categories of health provider that can benefit from telecare include:

  • Senior care
  • Mental health
  • Care for disabled populations
  • Hospice

In short, telecare can be useful in any context where patients can benefit from continual monitoring and responsive in-person treatment.

Adopting Telecare in an Organization: A 5-Step Process

Below is a straightforward set of steps that healthcare providers can follow when implementing a telecare solution within their organization. 

1. Assess needs and benefits

Assessments will help healthcare professionals better understand both the potential value of adopting a telecare solution – as well as its limitations.

During this initial stage, organizations should evaluate:

  • The potential benefits offered by telecare in general. The first step is to understand the overall pros and cons of telecare. As mentioned, a telecare solution can increase patient satisfaction, independence, and the overall level of care. However, it is important to understand how a telecare system would impact one’s own organization specifically.
  • How telecare could impact care within one’s own organization. Every healthcare organization is unique and each telecare provider delivers a specific set of services. For these reasons, telecare will deliver different benefits depending on the circumstances. To better project the potential ROI of the telecare system – or the ROI of any technology investment for that matter – it is important to model the specific impact of that technology.
  • Change readiness, digital literacy, digital maturity, and other factors that will affect adoption. Factors such as these will directly affect the success of the technology adoption effort. For that reason, it is important to assess these areas from the outset, then develop a technology adoption program that meets the current needs and capabilities of the organization.

These assessments will inform the following stages in the process and increase the chances of seamless, successful transition.

2. Define goals and a strategy

A goal-oriented strategy will define what the organization hopes to accomplish by adopting a telecare solution.

The goals laid out in the strategy should revolve around the projected benefits that the organization hopes to achieve through adopting this program, such as:

  • Increasing revenue
  • Boosting patient engagement
  • Improving care for a particular segment of the patient population
  • Decreased costs
  • A better work environment for employees

Ideally, these metrics should be quantifiable – if metrics can be attached to those goals, then those indicators can be used to track and monitor performance.

3. Create a plan

A roadmap for change will outline the proposed adoption project in a series of stages. 

As change manager know, it is important to emphasize the human element of change during any organizational transition, because people are the ones that drive that change forward.

The roadmap will be similar to a user journey map or a project schedule, outlining…

  • A timeline of events and deadlines
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • General descriptions of each stage
  • Goals for different parties along this timeline

The obvious use case for a plan is to provide structure for the overall plan and to help business leaders and employees stay in sync. However, these documents can also serve as useful communication tools, helping to remind and explain the plan to team members.

4. Prepare the organization for change

A structured approach to change management will increase employee motivation and engagement, while decreasing resistance. With the right approach to change, the adoption of telecare solutions will be faster, easier, and more efficient.

Proper preparation should revolve around:

  • Motivating employees. If organizational change is not handled properly, then employees can resist change – and, in worst case scenarios, even cause a change effort to fail completely. For that reason, change managers make it a point to communicate effectively, train employees, and provide them with the tools they need to succeed.
  • Ensuring that employees can demonstrate their abilities. To ensure that employees are fully prepared to implement new technologies and systems, they must be able to actually demonstrate their skills practically. This is why many change management frameworks, such as the ADKAR framework, focus on the demonstration of practical skills – not merely the completion of training material.
  • Reinforcing new processes over the long-term. With many organizational changes, the tendency is to complete a project, then move on to the next one. Unfortunately, however, changes that aren’t reinforced can quickly erode. Staff can slip back into old habits and workflows, undoing the hard work that has been completed until this point. For this reason, it is important to continue evaluating, reviewing, and reinforcing the change over the long term.

Change management frameworks can be an effective resource for developing strategies that minimize resistance, maximize productivity, and streamline change.

5. Implement, manage, and optimize

Careful management is essential to the successful adoption of any new change, which requires:

  • Ongoing monitoring and data collection. Metrics and data collection should focus on a wide range of activities related to the telecare program, including employee productivity and performance, employee sentiment, patient health, patient satisfaction, financial indicators, and so forth. 
  • Analysis of that data. All of that information, in turn, will provide insight into the program’s success, what works, what doesn’t, and where to make adjustments. Ongoing analysis should be coupled with a willingness to make changes when necessary.
  • Modification. The ability to stay agile and adaptable is essential in today’s fast-paced marketplace. However, as medical industry professionals know, there are many factors at play that can reduce speed and agility. Regulations, bureaucracy, and the sheer complexity of the healthcare system all make it difficult to make rapid changes. However, at a local level, it is still possible to make modifications to specific programs, such as telecare implementations.

This type of approach can dramatically improve the results of a change effort, since it is impossible to predict or foresee exactly how a business initiative will play out in the real world.

Staying data-driven and flexible can help healthcare providers improve the quality of the care they provide, stay more relevant, and even gain a competitive advantage.

Conclusion: Telecare in an Evolving World

Healthcare is continually evolving. 

New medical breakthroughs and scientific achievements are being made every year, which produces new treatments, new cures, and new forms of medical care.

Yet with telehealth and telecare, we are seeing new medical innovations that result from digital transformation. 

In the coming years, we can expect to see a great many more improvements, from robot-provided care to IoT-powered care facilities – all of which promise substantial enhancements to the quality of patient care and patient health.

It is also worth noting that, in order to keep up with this evolving environment, providers will need to adopt modern healthcare solutions and technology, including telecare, telemedicine, and other telehealth options.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.