Eric Topol’s recent book, The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine Is in Your Hands, is a fascinating look at the impact of mobile technology on outpatient medicine. It paints a picture of a not-too-distant future where patients use their smartphones to get test results from one drop of blood, monitor their vital signs, and even get diagnoses without having to see a doctor.
Sound far-fetched? With the progress we’ve seen in telemedicine in hospital settings in the last 20 years, we’ve learned never to say “never” when it comes to the combination of good technology and good medicine, and what that combination can produce.
Not long ago, telemedicine was a great idea that worked in certain specific situations, but wasn’t quite ready for prime time. Because the computers and videoconferencing networks involved in early telemedicine took time to “boot up,” we often saw telemedicine units used as coat racks in Emergency Departments and nursing stations. They just weren’t advanced enough for the fast-on-your-feet requirements of everyday hospital care.
Telemedicine use is widespread
All that has changed, however. The latest telemedicine videoconferencing and diagnostic stations—or “robots”—are always on, able to respond instantly when they are needed, even in the most intense ED scenarios when seconds can mean life or death for a patient suffering a stroke or other emergency. No longer coat racks, the robots have become an integral part of the clinical team at more and more hospitals.
In our daily work as a provider of telemedicine services to leading hospitals across the country, we see how pervasive the acceptance of telemedicine is. More than half of U.S. hospitals use telemedicine in some form to engage with patients remotely, and it’s easy to see why: Administrators like the cost savings, the census increases, and the way telemedicine helps them deal with the challenges of the physician shortage. Physicians appreciate the work-life balance, the 24/7 coverage, and the quick availability to specialists that telemedicine provides.
More personal than a personal visit
Even the argument that telemedicine is impersonal is rapidly falling by the wayside. In fact, we hear from many patients that they feel telemedicine is even more personal than a face-to-face visit with a physician in a hospital. They appreciate the fact that the physicians beamed to their bedside through videoconferencing technology are totally focused on them, and not distracted by pagers or other interruptions. And older patients, we find, accept telemedicine as readily as younger ones. One of my favorite anecdotes: A 90-year-old patient involved in one of our teleneurology programs said he thought the technology was “cool.”
Our growing success in telemedicine specialties—Tele-ICU, Telenocturnist care, Teleneurology, and our newest offering, Telepsychiatry—is another indication of telemedicine’s growing role in healthcare today. Into 2016 and beyond, we will continue to explore new specialties such as Emergency Medicine, Cardiology, ID, and Rheumatology. The coat rack days are over.