Few fields exemplify technological dichotomy like that of healthcare. On one hand, the industry is cutting-edge, an incredibly innovative space in which long-elusive cures are discovered and robot-assisted surgeries performed. Then there are the more antiquated aspects of the industry and the fact that—in an age where we can video chat with someone on the other side of the world and communicate as clearly as if we were in the same room—we’re still missing work to drive to the doctor’s office and spend 20 minutes in the waiting room, reading a four-month-old issue of Golf Digest and burning the time and money of everyone involved for face-to-face confirmation that, yes, that mole is normal.
With money being poured into healthcare by the trillions (literally: U.S. spending reached $3.8 trillion in 2014), and research, technology and innovation at an all-time high, why are we failing to adapt at the fundamental level and still engaging in such archaic practices? Why are so many healthcare facilities stuck in the technological Stone Age?
Fortunately, there is an existing, effective (at least partial) cure for this inefficiency, and we’re talking telemedicine.
While it’s by no means a new practice—telemedicine has been around for decades—the cost of equipment, support and services has long prevented its total adoption. But now, with new inventions and integrations into existing technology, it’s poised to revolutionize the healthcare industry. The number of e-visits with primary care physicians—conducted via phones, apps and the Internet—is expected to reach 100 million globally in 2015, and it’s a practice that’s not only patient-approved (70 percent are comfortable communicating with their healthcare provider over text, emails and video) but doctor-supported, with 50% of physicians believing that e-visits could replace over 10% of in-office appointments.
While in-person care is frequently requisite and an entirely digital healthcare system is neither feasible nor desirable (smartphones aren’t known for their bedside manner), the progression of tech has turned telemedicine into the obvious, existing solution to a complex problem. When carried out properly, it’s a practice that has the ability to streamline the user experience for both patients and their healthcare providers, simplifying the healthcare system while saving money, saving time and, ultimately, saving lives.
Time is money; that’s as true in the world of medicine as it is in any other. Similarly, we can all agree that, when given free time, we don’t want to spend it wearing a backless gown in a cold, sterile room. Forty-five percent of Americans suffer from chronic conditions, which not only results in time wasted in waiting rooms by patients (according to a Vitals.com study, the average wait is around 19 minutes), but a regular waste of time on the doctor’s and facility’s side as well.
Telemedicine gives healthcare professionals the ability to conduct routine appointments and consultations far more efficiently, and a recent study from Accenture found that one in four U.S. physicians already use tele-monitoring devices for some aspect of chronic disease management. This allows them to fit more routine appointments into a smaller window, conserving both time and resources while making the process as seamless as possible for everyone involved. The most surprising part is that more physicians haven’t jumped on this opportunity.
The business of saving lives is still a business, and 65 percent of healthcare information management professionals ranked cost reduction a top innovation priority. Telemedicine has the potential to save hospital, clinics and medical centers—along with their patients and the industry in general—incredible amounts of cash.
According to Accenture, FDA-regulated digital health solutions in general are predicted to save the U.S. healthcare system over $100 billion over the next four years. Similarly, the aforementioned 100 million e-visits forecasted to take place globally this year could result in savings of five billion dollars, while online doctor visits—which could address 60% of cases seen at urgent care centers—cost 73% less. In addition to those stats, a recent study at UC Davis found that implementing pediatric telehealth programs in rural emergency departments resulted in cost reductions of $4,662 per child annually—a $1.96 return on investment for every dollar the hospitals spent on telehealth.
Yet another way that telemedicine saves money is by reducing no-shows, which cost the healthcare system billions of dollars each year.
The takeaway: We can’t afford not to utilize telemedicine.
This is simple. People are busy and often, unless experiencing extreme pain or discomfort, unlikely to drag themselves to the doctor’s office. In an article on telemedicine in The Tennessean, one columnist wrote about her mother, a medical professional herself, who would postpone doctor’s visits due to time and inconvenience. After discovering a dermatological issue, she waited three months before seeking medical attention and, ultimately, it was too late. The writer cited the inconvenience of doctors visits as a huge factor in her mother’s fate, and hypothesized that, had telemedicine been available years ago, her mother might’ve been cured.
Understandable frustration and procrastination on the patient side isn’t the only problem, however, as simply securing an appointment can take a considerable amount of time. A 2014 survey by Merritt Hawkins found it could take weeks for patients to get an appointment with a specialist, whereas telemedicine could give patients the ability to reach a professional for consultation far more quickly, which—in many cases—could literally making the difference between life and death.
As further evidence that telemedicine is rapidly becoming the go-to tech, devices to facilitate it are rapidly being developed. American Well, an app that matches patients with available physicians for videoconferencing, has been described as the Uber for healthcare. Meanwhile, the Oto HOME (dubbed a 2015 world-changing idea by Fast Company) is an at-home diagnosis tool for ear infections, which connects with parents’ smartphones, allowing them to take video footage of their child’s eardrum and send it to a physician for at-home diagnosis and prescriptions. (We can all agree that’s a far more desirable option than dragging a sick, screaming child to the doctor’s office.) Even more impressive? Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE is a $10 million contest challenging teams to create a handheld device that would give consumers the ability to capture health metrics and diagnose 15 diseases without making an unnecessary trip to the clinic.
On the doctor’s end, there are also physician-to-physician telemedicine explorations. Figure-1—essentially Instagram for doctors—is an app providing “free, safe photo sharing for healthcare professionals,” allowing them to connect with colleagues for discussion, consultation and collaboration, increasing knowledge and inspiring discussion within the medical community.
Here at Chaotic Moon Studios, we’re also toying with telehealth-related tech (because if there’s a problem—we can’t help ourselves—we have to fix it). This endeavor was initiated when a colleague approached the BASE team with a two-part predicament: A diabetic, she needed to test her glucose frequently, but hated the hassle of lugging around a separate kit. The second issue had to do with transmitting her results, as existing, overly complicated kits presented difficult-to-read results, required manual connection to a mobile device, and only worked with a specific app. All of this made it extremely difficult to test as frequently as she should, to understand her test results, and to share information with her doctor if necessary.
“Testers on the market right now are these external pieces that have to be carried around, binded with Bluetooth—yada, yada, yada,” said Chaotic Moon Senior Solutions Engineer Marc Boudria. “It’s not the best user experience with technology. This was a problem that required both a hardware and software solution.”
The answer? Patent-pending project “Sweet Tooth,” which integrates a glucose-testing kit with a phone case—giving the user the capability to test more frequently and conveniently—and, through SDK software, allows the user to automatically sync their easily readable results with multiple mobile apps and programs, and share the results with their physician.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, there are countless ways telemedicine, refined by thoughtful user-centered design, would improve a medical center: it would cut costs, make waiting rooms less crowded, and not only give doctors and nurses more time to focus on critical cases, but allow them to begin consultation or preparation before the patient even reaches the hospital or clinic. Appointments could be recorded for reference by patients and their physicians, and information could be stored and shared, enabling chosen parties to stay informed and keep tabs on prescriptions.
When applied properly, this technology has the ability to completely transform a hospital, clinic or practice, and through a custom, innovative and user-friendly platform, one could create the most smoothly running medical center imaginable.
After all, it’s not a matter of if telemedicine is fully implemented; it’s a matter of when. The question is, who will be first to accept this inevitable evolution and master it, and who will fall behind? We understand this technology and we are passionate about working with hospital networks to make this exciting, yet currently peripheral technology, into the mainstream. Reach out to us at email@example.com and let’s talk.