The American Telemedicine Association. It’s a pretty safe bet that we’re living in the future when a group exists whose purpose is to be “the leading international resource and advocate promoting the use of advanced remote medical technologies.”
Telemedicine is growing at a breakneck pace. The ATA claims that nearly one million patients will be seen by a doctor using a webcam this year and insurance companies are already moving to provide coverage.
For those that still want the face-to-actual-face communication and contact that comes with a visit to the doctor’s office, webcam visits are being augmented by a growing number of “doctor on call” services which are accessed primarily via an app on your smartphone.
For a long time, the running joke in the technology startup space was “we’re Uber, but for….” Multiple entrepreneurs have taken that idea to the medical field and developed what is, essentially, Uber (an on-demand car service), but for medical services. Rather than a car arriving and taking you to a destination, a car arrives driven by a doctor or a nurse practitioner. For fees ranging from $50 to $200, these medical professionals will see you in your home at a time that suits your schedule.
Some are even starting to specialize, with focuses centering around seeing those who have the most difficulty getting out of the house. Doctor on call services exist for eldercare and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients, pregnancy care, and newborn visits, thus alleviating the elderly and the new parent from the struggles of travel.
Doctors enjoy providing the service and cite the benefits of seeing the patient in their home environment. This allows them to investigate and account for any factors that may be contributing to, if not a direct cause of, the patient’s illness. As quoted in a New York Times blog post, Dr. Janani Krishnaswami says that by seeing someone in their home, she can “look at what their life is like, what they’re eating, how they’re living, what’s stressing them out.” The doctor also appreciates not feeling as rushed as she does while in an office. “I can take however much time I need with them,” she says, “which is increasingly difficult to do in our current system of medicine.”
The legal implications of these types of services are still being determined. Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas have banned the practice of telemedicine, either through legislation or by restrictions imposed by their state medical boards. And attorneys are, of course, working to ensure that patients being seen by summoning a doctor with a smartphone or via a computer’s webcam are getting the same quality of care that their office-visiting counterparts receive.
One thing is certain, however, and that is that fact that telemedicine is here to stay. The question is how effectively, and safely, are we going to use it?