How are cutting-edge medical devices like TytoHome revolutionising the future of online doctor consultations?


Over the past year, healthcare professionals have been called upon to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and transform their business models towards digital healthcare. There's been a surge in the use of technologies and devices, such as TytoHome, to meet a growing demand for online consultations.

Massive digital transformation is rocking the healthcare industry.

The adoption of digital healthcare technologies was already increasing significantly before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic caused both the demand and supply of these technologies to expand, with a massive swing towards digital platforms.

Five-fold growth in the use of telehealth platforms by consumers

Online consultations balance the need for on-demand access to healthcare with ensuring patient and provider safety in the context of COVID-19. These technologies meet the needs of ever more engaged, informed and connected patients who want faster, safer and more affordable access to care, in real time. They also extend quality care to people in remote settings.

In 2020 telemedicine and online consultations came to the fore on a global scale. Research by McKinsey shows that from 2019 to 2020, the United States saw a five-fold growth in the use of telehealth platforms by consumers. Healthcare providers are now seeing between 50 and 175 times more patients on telehealth platforms. McKinsey's report also suggests that the accelerated adoption of telehealth across all levels of care could see up to $250 billion in current US healthcare spend potentially "virtualised".

Discovery Health data shows growth in online consultations during the pandemic

Between 2019 and 2020, Discovery Health's digital platform for online doctor consultations saw up to a 35-fold increase in virtual consultations. Since its launch in 2018, more than 2 000 local doctors have joined the platform and more than half a million members of schemes administered by Discovery Health have used it to engage in virtual consultations.

COVID-19 led to an increased uptake of the platform in 2020. The Health Professions Council of South Africa was also providing regulatory support for online consultations.

In line with these developments, Discovery partnered with Vodacom in July 2020 to set up a pandemic-specific fund. Through the fund, all South Africans were offered access to free online COVID-19 screening and doctors' consultations. This also enabled participating doctors - many of whom had significant cashflow constraints as a result of the pandemic - to earn an income while limiting their risk of exposure to COVID-19.

TytoHome medical device makes virtual medical care more accurate and accessible than before

Then, in late 2020, Discovery Health introduced the groundbreaking TytoHome mobile medical device. This award-winning mobile medical device enables a high-quality, remotely guided virtual consultation with a doctor from anywhere, at any time.

TytoHome is portable, lightweight medical exam kit that includes an examination camera, thermometer, otoscope and stethoscope. This allows patients to capture clinical-grade images of the ear, throat and skin, as well as lung and heart auscultations (the sounds made by organs, for example, a heart rate), which they can share with a doctor in the Discovery Health TytoHome network in real time, using the Discovery Connected Care app. The device also comes with reusable tongue depressors and disposable ear speculas for adults and children.

The device enriches the virtual consultation experience by providing doctors with a live feed of clinical images and sound. This allows them to more accurately diagnose symptoms and common conditions remotely, based on their observations. Doctors can then devise a treatment plan, which may include a prescription.

Midrand-based GP, Dr Unben Pillay, says, "From a provider's point of view, the device gives the doctor access to a large amount of high-grade clinical information. The quality of medical images received is probably better than what we see in our practices using traditional tools."

TytoHome allows for the examination of:

  1. Heart rate
  2. Ears
  3. Breathing
  4. Sore throats
  5. Temperature
  6. Skin conditions
  7. Sounds from the digestive system
  8. Fever and other conditions

Dr Pillay adds, "From the patient's point of view, the device is also very easy to use."

The device is cordless, charged by a USB and has excellent battery life. It connects to Wi-Fi for the consultation or allows for a self-examination - say, to take a temperature reading - without Wi-Fi. It's easy for the patient to hold and move, with the doctor's guidance, and the attachments are easy to put together.

Dr Pillay adds, "Discovery has long been at the forefront of innovation in digital healthcare. The fact that Discovery Health has embraced the TytoHome device and made it available to medical scheme members - our patients - is a game changer for online consultations."

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