For as long as doctors have practiced, we’ve relied on them to remedy our lumps, cuts, bruises, and breaks. When we’re stricken with sickness, or we feel an inkling of disease, our self-preservation instinct urges a trip to the doctor’s office. For those able to stomach the costs, it’s always been not just common sense, but second nature to seek medical treatment from the most qualified source.
Today, the nature of communication is fundamentally changed. A face-to-face conversation no longer requires its participants to inhabit the same place and time. With modern technology, it’s now easy to digitize almost every type of exchange, whether it be conversational, informational, or monetary. This communicative flexibility has borne a universe of potential in nearly every industry, including healthcare. A multitude of new telehealth apps, available via smart device, are set to broadcast the treatment paradigm into a digitally integrated future, rendering professional care more affordable, accessible, and convenient than ever.
An unwanted illness can upset our day-to-day at any time. Having to ferry a feverish partner to the emergency room is never convenient, even less so when their symptoms clear by the time the doctor arrives. Apps like Teladoc and Doctor on Demand are the answer to ambiguous symptoms that leave patients unsure whether visiting the doctor’s office is the right move. These apps allow users to discuss symptoms with professionals certified in everything from pediatrics, to gynecology, to internal medicine. On top of that, most online consultations are relatively cheap, costing around $40-$50.
Owned by around 36 million Americans, wearable technology is fueling healthcare’s digital facelift in a major way. Apple’s Healthkit function collects users’ health data and body measurements, and stores them for use by a variety of fitness and general wellness apps, the most popular of which include motion and exercise trackers like FitBit and as well as nutritional guides such as MyFitnessPal, and personal coaching programs like Fitstar and Noom Coach.
Tech giants like Apple and Amazon don’t just dabble in wearable health tech, however; both are reportedly developing platforms for storing and deploying patients’ medical data. Amazon recently founded a lab in Seattle dedicated to developing a presence in digital healthcare; Healthcare IT News reports that the Amazon team may be considering a program for sharing electronic health records (EHRs), as well as telemedicine applications for Amazon devices like the Echo. A report by CNBC states that Apple has followed suit, hiring EHR startup Health Gorilla to create a central hub that would enable care providers to easily view a complete synopsis of patients’ medical history.
Digital health is also tackling device owners’ health concerns by connecting them with doctor-patient texting services, as well as online information centers, where patients can learn the professional consensus on the characteristics and treatment of numerous maladies, and post questions on forums peer-reviewed by medical experts. PingMD enables patients to send messages to doctors via text, voice, and video, which are added to their medical records upon answer. Patients looking for in-depth medical informations, and consensus-based opinions can use HealthTap to link into a network of over 50,000 doctors, whose responses to questions on nearly any medical subject are archived for peer commentary, and patient access.
While still nascent, it’s entirely conceivable that as digital healthcare is further refined, the online doctor’s visit will eventually supercede the physical office trip as the most effective and efficient checkup method. Even in its infancy, digital health has managed to open a brand new avenue for sharing medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment. In light of the potential it has already demonstrated, I don’t believe anyone, especially pharmaceutical interests, should underestimate just how substantially digital health may rewire medical practice in coming years.