I just returned from the American Telemedicine Association annual conference, the largest international conference whose focus is on telehealth. The conference brings together healthcare professionals and industry leaders with the mission of transforming healthcare while ensuring quality, equity, and affordability.
I was struck in particular by one presenter, a noted author on societal trends, who said we have reached a tipping point in our existence where greater than 50% of what we do is carried out in "cyberspace." Think about it. Among the things now carried out in virtual fashion are banking, communication, networking, dating and relationships, schooling and education, working, paying bills, and shopping for anything you can imagine. This tipping point is also present in healthcare and growing at a rapid pace. For example, we now access our individual health records online, and in some instances communicate via email with our doctor's offices. In rural and under-served areas, telemedicine has served for a number of years now as a vital link to advanced healthcare for conditions such as stroke, dermatology, and mental health problems. Would it surprise you to know some surgeries can be done remotely by doctors utilizing computers and robotic equipment?
A bit closer to home, you likely are familiar with the Fitbit or other "wearable technology" that enables you to track a number of your own health and fitness parameters. Why not use such technology to plug-in to your doctor's office and improve your health? The answer is, we already do! We are currently able to provide remote care via devices that can monitor numerous health parameters such as weight, blood pressure, heart rate and rhythm, and blood sugar. We have remote stethoscopes to listen to hearts and lungs, and a variety of visual aids to look into ears, noses, mouths, and to examine rashes. In addition to the potential for remote surgeries, there are other Star-Trek type devices under development that will eventually allow us to evaluate more complex health parameters remotely.
For now, we are just dipping our toes intothis next frontier of medicine. We are just getting used to the idea of "seeing" our doctor virtually, via telemedicine in an online encounter. It is clear that to balance the demands of escalating healthcare costs and diminished supply, novel efficiencies such as telemedicine will need to be adopted. So what can you do to get more familiar with and promote this next frontier? Let me give you some concrete action items:
Gotowww.AHonDemand.com, explorethe site (including back issues of this blog!), and learn about how we provide urgent care visits online.
Registerwith AHonDemand (it takes 2 minutes!) so when you have a healthcare need, all you need to do is connect with one of our providers.
Discusswith your doctor's office their plans for integrating telemedicine into their practice.
Askyour friends and family what they know about telemedicine. If you've used it already, tell others about it. If they've used it, ask them about their experience. You will likely get great reviews from them.
Inquirewith your corporate HR manager or health insurance carrier what their plans arefor integration of telemedicine services into their healthcare benefits plan.
Discusstelemedicine with your government representatives. You likely know someone from school, church, or your neighborhood who works for the government or in public policy. Leverage those relationships to ensure the benefits of telemedicine are on their radar.
Use it!Try it out when you need care!