Today, the focus in healthcare is to make medical services cheaper. By lowering costs and improving efficiency, healthcare providers and administrators can hold true to the hippocratic oath in the face of rising insurance costs and the high demand for treatment among the middle class.
One promising trend for streamlining medical care involves the use of cutting edge communications equipment. With the help of tools like Skype, video calling, and cloud-based data storage, doctors are able to consult with patients who are anywhere from a few blocks away to floating in orbit in the International Space Station. Here’s what you need to know about this new trend: how it came about, why it’s helping doctors save money, and how it affects you.
The Need for Telehealth
Some readers may remember a time when doctors made house calls. Indeed, house calls were quite common in the American post-war era. In the 1960s, 40 percent of doctors’ appointments took the form of house calls. Over the next two decades this number fell below one percent.
The fall of house calls went hand-in-hand with other developments in Western society. The milkman stopped leaving milk at our doors, and we started picking it up from the grocery store; newspaper rounds were made by car, instead of bicycle; and doctors waited in their offices for patients instead of the other way around.
Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, these developments marked significant improvements in efficiency and convenience. Today, high speed internet and wireless communications are doing the same thing for many of these same services. Services like Uber and Lyft have fine-tuned the taxi business and news is disseminated instantaneously through the web. Soon, thanks to Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, we can expect automated checkout and delivery systems in the future,
Now healthcare is receiving the same technological makeover. Patient records are being stored in the cloud, making it easy for doctors to access them at the touch of a button and experts can be consulted from halfway around the world. However, the most surprising change in medical technology has been the way in which patients experience care. Now, instead of going to a clinic or hospital to see a doctor, patients can get expert-level advice from the comfort of their homes thanks to high definition video conferencing.
Why Doctors Love It
One of the stark realities that new doctors must confront is the dark financial side of medicine. In spite of medical school training that directs healthcare professionals to care for any patient that they can, doctors in the real world are being asked to make tough choices when patients aren’t able to foot the bill.
It’s no wonder that doctors treat any money-saving measures they encounter as a blessing. Lower costs mean that more patients can be treated without the cloud of fiscal pressure hanging above them. So when doctors hear that telehealth practices could save as much as $479 million a year in transportation costs alone, they must be celebrating.
Why Patients Should Love It Too
Cheaper healthcare solutions are a victory for almost everyone involved. When treatment costs less, insurance companies can’t find ways to justify skyrocketing premiums. This decreases the financial burden of medical care on families while allowing doctors work the way that they want to — let’s face it, nobody wants to become a doctor to wade through paperwork and payment forms.
In addition to the monetary benefits, telehealth also allows doctors to treat patients who would normally be outside of their reach. While this includes fringe cases like a sick astronaut or a rogue stomach flu in Antarctica, it also means that doctors can reach rural communities like never before. Typically those living outside of population centers would face travel times of an hour or more just to see a doctor. When you’re in pain or feeling sick, this kind of travel can be uncomfortable at best or dangerous at worst. When doctors are able to perform long-distance consultations, medicine can reach people who never would have had access before.
Today’s lightspeed communication technologies are revolutionizing almost everything that they touch. With the development of telehealth practices, healthcare is no different. Both patients and healthcare professionals can expect to reap the benefits of telehealth in the form of lower costs and greater access.