It’s a truism that the pandemic dramatically sped up the digitizing of our lives, with the ubiquity of teleconferencing today being the most obvious manifestation of this trend. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the most dramatic change has been the rise of digital healthcare–and this is good news for all of us. The application of digital tools to medicine holds the promise to significantly speed up the progress of America’s healthcare system toward its four-fold goal of enhanced patient outcomes, improved patient experience, improved provider experience, and reduced cost.
Due to changes wrought by the pandemic, which forced us to find new, nonpersonal ways of interacting, more people today than ever before visit their doctor virtually via teleconference technology. For example, 43% of Medicare primary care visits were via telemedicine connection from March 2020 to February 2021. Fortune Business Insights analysts predict that the worldwide telemedicine industry will expand to be larger than $185 billion by the end of 2026.
The reasons for telehealth’s popularity are obvious: It’s much more convenient than driving to the doctor’s office, and research shows it may be as effective as face-to-face meetings in some cases.
The benefits of telemedicine include the following.
Expanded Access to Healthcare: Telehealth makes it easier for the medically vulnerable and those without transportation to get the healthcare they need.
A Reduction In the Spread of Disease: Fewer people in medical buildings means fewer opportunities for the sick to pass diseases to others.
More Convenient Care for Nonurgent Conditions: Virtual appointments make it easier for people with chronic issues to see their doctor regularly.
Continuity of Care: The ongoing communication made possible via telemedicine makes it easier for providers to know their patients better and thus better serve them.
The Internet of Things
In medicine, the Internet of Things (IoT) includes wearable devices–everything from smartwatches that measure your signs in real time to on-body and implantable devices that can treat medical conditions as well as monitor them. For example, smart bodywear like patches, clothes, and accessories that can administer on-demand drug release are now being developed.
IoT medical devices gather data on patients throughout the day, producing insights that can lead to better treatment plans. Doctors can gain a better understanding of how well a certain medication is performing, and real-time feedback for IoT sensors can allow doctors to continuously improve upon their original treatment plans.
The benefits of internet-connected wearable, and implanted medical devices include the following.
Patient Freedom: Patients can use wearable devices and go about their lives. No need to be tethered to a bed or to be continually visiting the doctor.
Better Outcomes: Having instant, constant access to data about patients’ health can make it much easier for medical professionals to craft, monitor, and adjust treatments for maximum effectiveness.
Lower Costs: IoT sensors on expensive equipment in hospitals, like CAT scanners and MRO machines, can alert technicians to developing problems and service issues before they become a problem–resulting in significant savings. And from the patient perspective, Moore’s Law predicts that the cost of IoT devices will come down drastically in the future.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
Now in developmental stages, virtual and augmented reality devices allow medical professionals to safely treat patients suffering from psychological disturbances and to train new physicians without endangering patients. Medical professionals use virtual reality to treat anxiety, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder by creating simulations of real-life scenarios where people feel psychologically challenged so they can learn to deal with these challenges without putting themselves in danger. And virtual reality scenarios can allow medical students to “operate” on virtual patients without the danger of harming them.
The benefits of virtual and augmented reality in healthcare include the following.
Better Physicians: Tomorrow’s doctors are likely to be more skilled and trained more quickly, thanks to treating virtual patients in medical school.
Better Mental Health: Patients who overcome phobias and fixations with the help of virtual reality can reduce fears by 75% after an average treatment length of six weeks, research shows.
The tools of digital healthcare–those listed above and many others, including the digitized provider directories provided by my company–have the potential to revolutionize modern medicine. This means better outcomes for both patients and providers and potentially lower costs for everyone.
The challenge now is to avoid going back to the old, pre-pandemic attitude toward these tools. Any dramatic changes requires a tremendous effort just to overcome the status quo. With the right leadership within the medical, business, and government spheres, I believe that we can overcome this challenge and usher in a new era of healthcare efficiency, effectiveness, and affordability.