Almost a hundred years ago an inventor by the name of Hugo Gernshbacher envisioned a device that would phase out risky visits to the doctor’s office. He imagined your doctor would sit in front of a bubble-shaped monitor through which he could perform your physical using a pair of thin, elongated metal sticks (stemming from your end) that your doctor would augment using a matching set in their office. He called the system a teledactyl, and though it sounds like your niece trying to tell you her favorite dinosaur, it represents the health community’s historically lasting desire to diagnose and treat patients remotely when needed.
In modern day we call this remote medical practice ‘telemedicine’ and can see it in practice through companies like American Well and Buoy Health, both of which match you with a remote healthcare provider that fits your needs. Hospitals have also started offering virtual clinics after realizing how lucrative and accessible their services can be through telemedicine. But as the telehealth market as a whole is expected to expand from 45 billion dollars (in 2019) to 175 billion by 2026, you might be wondering why you haven’t ever facetimed your doctor.
The most obvious reason is that it’s a little awkward to imagine facetiming your doctor. We generally like seeing our doctors face to face, and they have a business model that caters to that preference. On a more structural level, insurance restrictions pose an even bigger obstacle on the path to a larger presence of telemedicine. Insurance agencies are well aware of the utility of telemedicine and fear that if they make it too accessible then their clients will use too much of it. As a result, these agencies end up withholding support, depending on the types telemedicine they cover.
Nowadays laws are changing and being passed to mitigate these stringent requirements due to the necessity of telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic. The White House even waived the strict telemedicine requirements for Medicare patients as a part of their efforts to promote CDC guidelines, but these progressive adaptations aren’t going away once the pandemic is “over”. In fact, as seen by market growth statistics, the use of telemedicine will likely increase exponentially and proliferate into every medium of healthcare possible. Telemedical practices have already been adopted by the dermatology, psychology, family medicine, and many other medical industries (orthopedic surgeons are currently struggling to integrate telemedicine into their routines).
The future of medicine is inseparable from telemedicine. If you need to see a specialized doctor that lives in another state, want a second opinion without leaving the house, or simply can’t leave your home due to mobility or immunity issues, you can see the value of telemedicine both with and without a crisis in our midst. The best part is you won’t need a 1,000-pound Teledactyl, just pick up your phone and facetime your doctor.
If you’d like to see how a telemedicine appointment with your doctor might work, check this out.