With all the jockeying that’s gone on in Washington the past decade over healthcare, you’d think more emphasis would be placed on telehealth. Yet the developments have come from the free market, supply and demand. Health costs have gone up for patients, facilities, and doctors. The better way to see a lot of people efficiently, and outside of the germ incubation waiting rooms has pushed telehealth into the forefront. This pandemic will only accelerate the innovations. It has to. Our physical healthcare structure can’t handle the demands of a panicked population looking for answers. Technology can.
The vast majority of inquiries during healthy times are from patients with chronic illnesses and nonemergency cases. If those patients with chronic illnesses had an ongoing virtual relationship with a doctor who could check vitals virtually and see the history at a glance, imagine the pressure release it would have on the physical system. Now take all those parents with sniffly kids out of the waiting area, and all the patients like me who wait until we are really sick to visit the doctor (yes, guilty of false bravado) and our medical facilities are much more prepared to meet the demands of a pandemic.
Let’s talk about my case first, because there are so many people like me. I power through a cold, go to work, hope I can shake it off, and after two weeks I give up and go to the doctor. Now I’m really sick, sitting in a waiting room making everybody else sick. If it was more convenient, I would have gone to the doctor much sooner. A ten minute call to a doctor on my lunch break would have given me reason to stay home, the right over the counter medicine, and perhaps a prescription.
Now for the moms, many of them working. They have to take time off work, take their child out of school and spend the afternoon in the waiting room coughing on others. In ten minutes she could have talked to a doctor and gotten a prescription, arranged to take a few days off work.
Now imagine the pressure release on the system. People are getting the care they deserve while not putting others at risk, and it’s costing the whole system about a tenth of the money.
Enter a pandemic. Fear drives people to get checked. What if the first screening could happen virtually? Vitals checked, comforting words from a doctor, continue social distancing (which, ironically, doesn’t happen when you go into the hospital).
It’s time to dramatically improve telehealth. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a pandemic to prompt the shift.