In an age of rapid and monumental digital change, the health care sector has remained largely untouched. The internet changed the way so many industries do business, with Amazon challenging shops, Spotify and iTunes taking on physical CDs, and Netflix almost completely replacing digital television. These are unprecedented shifts in our 21st century landscape, and by all accounts, there’s plenty more to come. Yet, for a long time, health care remained the same; if you have a problem, you go and see your doctor, who assesses you and passes you onto a specialist if required. All that changed, and is set to continue to change, with the advent of telemedicine, a new arena of health care which benefits both patients and doctors.
Strangely, telemedicine is not a new concept, but instead comes from a practice introduced in the 1960s, which used telecommunications (i.e. telephones in those days) to connect remotely located patients with doctors. The same fundamental idea is still used for telemedicine in 2018, but of course, the available tools have opened up significantly. The word “telemedicine” now includes a number of different digital devices, including laptops, tablets, and the ultimate symbol of the digital age, the smartphone. Using these tools and an internet connection, patients now have access to their doctors anytime they want, as well as having access to many resources that were previously unavailable.
This is undoubtedly the single biggest way that telemedicine is disrupting the health care industry. Following on from many other industries that have introduced “on-demand” services, health care has made that leap in the form of telemedicine. Previously, a trip to the doctor was sometimes a day-long excursion that needed to be planned and prepared for a few days in advance. If your symptoms had cleared up by the time of your appointment, or even gotten worse, then you couldn’t accurately describe or show your doctor exactly what you were feeling or experiencing. With telemedicine, you can contact your doctor immediately, either when the symptoms flare up, or if you’re worried about them returning. No waiting around, no appointments; through this innovative new method of health care, you can engage a medical professional in a matter of moments, from the comfort of your home.
At its core, the U.S. health care system is largely inefficient. So much time is wasted, not only for patients, but for doctors too. Mountains of money are pumped into the system every year, by government and patients alike, but there’s no clear way of determining if all this cash impetus is being put to good use. Every year, more money seems to be applied in an effort to fix the problem, but there’s no clear-cut way of quantifying the results, if any. Telemedicine shifts the health care paradigm to one where the focus is on the patient; as a result, it becomes consumer-orientated, and much more effective because of it. By supplying health care to the country on patients’ terms, telemedicine apps and providers connect people with all sorts of health care professionals, any day of the week, day or night.
Patients also now have a choice of specialists. Previously, they were stuck with the specialist recommended to them by their family doctor, which was often the one nearest to them physically. This could work out great if the specialist was well-regarded; but not so great if they weren’t. For people living in cities, this wasn’t the end of the world, as there was usually more than one specialist available to them. But for people living in remote areas, they would have no choice but to visit the only specialist available to them, regardless of their skill or reputation. Telemedicine opens up the field and lets people choose the specialist that suits them the best. Patients are no longer constrained by physical boundaries, and can engage with any specialist in the country, or even the world. Considering the host of conditions that require intimate knowledge, this is a major disruption for the health care industry, and completely changes the scope of the approach for patients and doctors alike.
There are also huge financial savings to be made via telemedicine, on both sides of the line. Patients can save money by not having to travel to visit a doctor and having reduced visitation costs, as doctors can fit more appointments into their working days. For physicians and hospital staff, administration costs go way down thanks to telemedicine, and they can also engage their patients in home analysis using the latest apps and digital aids, allowing them to get a clearer picture of the patient’s condition without having to closely monitor them personally. All in all, telemedicine looks to be the way of the future for health care, as digital dominates and transforms the landscape of many of our key industries. Patients and doctors can look forward to many more positive and beneficial disruptions!