Telemedicine first began as a form of healthcare delivery in the late 1960s by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Nebraska Psychology Institute. Fast forward to present day 2021, almost two years into the pandemic, and telehealth has exploded. In fact, no technology in the U.S. accelerated as quickly during Covid-19 than that of telemedicine, with an impressive uptick from 11 percent in 2019 to 46 percent in 2020, according to McKinsey & Company. Between March 2019 and March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found telehealth visits increased by more than 150 percent. As of April 2021, 84 percent of physicians were offering virtual visits and nearly 60 percent plan to continue offering remote services.
Consumers are also on board. According to a June 2021 McKinsey Consumer Health Insights study, 40 percent of consumers plan to use telehealth post-pandemic, as opposed to just 10 percent pre-Covid. The survey also found that between 40 and 60 percent of consumers are interested in a set of broader virtual health solutions, such as a digital front door, or a low-cost, virtual-first health plan.
Today, we are a connected society. We keep connections by communication. Remote communication is far easier than being co-located. In many cases, it has very low barriers. Conceptually, and as odd as it sounds, humans gravitate towards communicating over the wire far more regularly than in person. Capitalizing on this, many companies, like WebEx, Zoom, and Apple, have become extremely effective in removing the barriers to communicate while taking advantage of advancements in data processing powers, data transmissions speeds, data storage capacity, and audio and video quality.
Removing barriers in getting the care, education and coaching we need to stay or become healthy is a goal many Americans aim to achieve. It’s a cause for celebration, and we need to use this movement to go further.
So, where exactly is further? Here are seven key areas to explore:
- Visual observation towards a diagnosis
- Electronic, machine-driven measurement to obtain vitals
- Tracking medication dispensation and consumption
- Tracking habits, lifestyle choices, movements, hygiene, mindfulness
- Receiving and applying coaching, mentorship, motivations
- Receiving and applying continuous education
- Education and encouragement of sharing healthy/unhealthy habits to build out a larger knowledge-base to draw from
That’s a lot, right? Well, if I told you fifty years ago that a mobile device that fits in your back pocket is a phone, camera, flashlight, ATM card, photo album, TV remote control, and record player, as well as your entire album library, you would think I was crazy.
Enter the next stage of the tech revolution: having a doctor on your wrist. Let’s imagine—without limitation—how this could work. Today, various medical device technologies can track irregular heartbeat, ECG, sleep pattern, fall detection, step counter, etc. What consumers can measure in the comfort of their home range from blood pressure and glucose levels to blood oxygen and body temperature, as well as early detection of breast and colon cancer. In some cases, a physical medical device is needed to measure vitals—the bulkiest being blood pressure. Now is the time for the healthcare industry needs to push the envelope.
Take our mobile devices, for example. It requires three sensors: vision, sound, and balance. And it engages numerous body functions: voice, physical activity, sleep, eye movement, breathing regulation, and mindfulness. Assuming we take out the earbuds, earplugs, headphones, other connected accessories, the Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor, for example, is deemed a medical accessory. Today, Dexcom is reserved for A1C monitoring, but the possibilities of advancing low-intrusion monitoring is astounding.
So, can there be another less intrusive set of accessories for other vitals? Can there be devices like Dexcom for cholesterol or other key blood tests that make a lab visit and a jab unnecessary? I believe so. Of course, nothing can replace the trained hands, eyes, and ears of a physician to identify health issues. Surely, there can’t be an alternative to an ultrasound, x-ray, MRI, cat scan, or gastro probe. Or can there be?
Consider artificial intelligence (AI).
AI now plays a dynamic industry role and will continue to revolutionize the future of healthcare. For a Star Trek fan like me, I can’t help but imagine that our homes, cars, and offices might one day look like the USS Enterprise. If that reference makes you cringe, I guess you’re not a visionary, but believe me, we are on our way.
Thankfully, some advances are already within grasp.
We are driving down parallel paths to get to the promised land—one that affords us all happier and healthier selves. Physicians are outstanding, but their offices are pitiful. Hospitals are the marvels of the universe; however, they are slow, crowded, archaic and stuck in the stone age. In fact, the American Medical Association reports that 68 percent of physicians are “personally motivated” to increase telehealth adoption. When the pandemic is over, an average of 65 percent of physicians plan to use telemedicine for chronic disease management, care coordination and preventative care.
Given health technology’s existing capabilities, let’s control what we can now in a frictionless way. This is the 21st internet and IoT century. We just need to show some courage. Consumers should own their data and digital health records. Patients should have access to frictionless healthcare and should have the privilege to afford near-zero cost access to a healthy lifestyle. My medical records belong to me—not the provider. And I, as a patient, shouldn’t have to fill out forms or health questionnaires each time I see my doctor. I, like most patients, want this to stop.
As an industry, we all need to pitch in to change the system and put consumers in control. We are all citizens, customers, patients, and individual humans. Not institutions, governments, hospitals, or practices. We can and we will.