Going beyond traditional training: the emerging role of telementoring in digital health

The adoption of telementoring has accelerated during the pandemic, enabling safe and secure remote collaboration. Engin Demirel, EMEA head of product management, marketing and sales operations at Olympus, says it is now a vital tool in the hospital’s digital health armamentarium.

HITN: Why do you think telementoring has become an increasingly important aspect of telehealth?

Demirel: Due to the challenges in the operating room environment, the need for real-time access to clinical consultations is constantly growing. Virtual exchanges can bring know-how and added value to the healthcare provider’s team and patient. In addition to one-on-one surgical training, medical students either from a lecture room or from their home have the ability to virtually enter the procedure room and experience a live surgery.  

HITN: Perhaps you could give an example, driven by the pandemic, where telemonitoring has helped clinicians from different modalities who have been brought into the ICU to help deal with a new disease like COVID-19?

Demirel: Sure, healthcare facilities have faced difficult decisions and situations to minimise PPE consumption and Healthcare-Acquired Infection Risks: hospitals have minimised the number of personnel in procedure spaces. This is the main reason why med-tech companies like Olympus have pushed innovative technologies to support providers, enable virtual access and reach the procedure spaces to support the clinical teams.

HITN: What kind of impact do you think this will have on the experience of the medical student?

Demirel: Another market force pushing the adoption of telementoring is the expected shortage of medical staff and reductions in required surgical hours for medical students. In a recent Olympus webinar, Chelliah Selvasekar, consultant colorectal surgeon at the Christie NHS Foundation and Trust, shared the status of how precious the number of surgical training hours is and that many students will not be able to complete their required hours. He is concerned that without enough surgical training possibilities, there will be a significant shortage of surgeons soon. With the technologies that we have rolled out, we can help to the extent that medical students who cannot access the operating rooms can continue and complete their training. 

HITN: What other trends are driving the adoption of telemonitoring services? 

Demirel: Generally speaking, more and more stakeholders need access to operating rooms. But there are limits to the number of people you can accommodate in an operating theatre, and telementoring can provide a remedy.

One hour of unused operating room costs around €3000, so if a procedure has to be cancelled because a surgeon is delayed, it could negatively impact the hospital’s bottom line and patient outcomes. By enabling remote collaboration with other physicians in real time, we can mitigate the risks to operational efficiencies while supporting the decision-making skills of clinical teams.

HITN: How do you think this might create operational benefits for the hospital and improve patient care?

Demirel: Telementoring leads to optimised health outcomes with expertise sharing and rich collaboration. Multidisciplinary peers can join the procedure virtually to share best practices as well as expert opinions.  These new collaboration models result in more efficient problem-solving and increase productivity. Telementoring results in shorter surgery time and shorter hospital stays, therefore it is anticipated to be more economical.

Another benefit is virtual access to technical support, which can reduce operating room downtime. Lastly, virtual collaboration lowers travel costs for experts needed in procedures, which supports the sustainability goals of healthcare facilities.

HITN: The whole world has gone virtual during the pandemic, but what are the specific requirements for telehealth?

Demirel: People use video-conferencing tools like Zoom or Teams for their virtual communication, but the medical environment is different.

It does not only support the health worker safety, but also pave the way for a well-informed decision, serving the essential goal of optimised patient care and improved clinical outcomes.

In operating rooms, HIPAA and GDPR-compliant information and device security are as important as integrating audio-visual input, using encrypted video screens on a secure storage mechanism to protect against unauthorised access. Because any intrusion can result in an adverse event for the patient’s case.

Healthcare IT News spoke to Engin Demirel, EMEA head of product management, marketing and sales operations at Olympus, as part of the ‘Summer Conversations’ series.

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