The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the ways in which medical services can be provided in an unprecedented manner. On short notice, hospitals had to endure unusual strain on their services; which ultimately led to supply shortages and a great reduction in the number of patients who could be admitted to their facilities. Combined with nationwide lockdowns and restrictions that significantly limited the number of individuals who could leave their homes, collective focus was diverted onto a service that had previously been underutilized: telehealth.
As its name suggests, telehealth refers to remote health monitoring and the use of digital information to access healthcare services. Prior to the pandemic, the healthcare industry had consistently lagged behind other sectors in its incorporation of digital tools. However, the current landscape has emphasized the urgent need for technology and raised the interests of both patients and health workers in tech-enabled health systems.
One of the most obvious outcomes of telehealth is observed through the reduced waiting-time for patients. Those with minor ailments can now resort to virtual diagnosis by describing their issue via live chat or video-conferencing to medical professionals. This reduces the burden over clinical staff at hospitals, allowing them to direct their attention onto persons in more dire need of urgent care. Accordingly, telehealth assists both citizens and governments in delivering better medical outcomes.
Considering its long-term positive impact on the society and economy, telehealth is successfully integrated as a subset of smart city technologies. By definition, smart cities focus on improving overall citizen quality of life by deploying various information and communication technologies. With the help of telehealth, smart cities can now assist public health officials in studying disease patterns and informing the public of new disease cycles through patient data. With wide internet connection and the prevalence of smartphone usage, telehealth can bring about more equality to the public health system by offering the same medical services to residents of both urban and rural areas.
The relationship between smart cities and telehealth has dramatically grown during the pandemic, and the adoption of ‘new normal’ in different aspects of life. But the benefits realized from telehealth among rural and urban communities are more than just temporary solutions to social distancing. Telehealth is expected to gain more popularity for its ability to enhance one of the most valuable aspects of human life: health care.