Gone are the days of unreliable WebMD searches and hour-long waits for a 10 minute doctor’s appointment: the new wave of online medicine is solving a myriad of today’s frustrations. While technology has played a role in healthcare for decades, specific remote services have not found a particular popularity until now, as the technology wave has fully washed over us. In 2020, telehealth will take the form of anything from video chats with your doctor to safe abortions at home, revolutionizing medicine for both patients and providers.
As defined by the Health Resources Services Administration, telehealth is “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration”. Video conferences, administrative meetings, and the interpretation of medical imaging and tests are all included in telehealth. Telemedicine falls under the broader scope of telehealth and refers solely to remote clinical services.
From an economic standpoint, the growth of telehealth services will benefit the vast majority of Americans who suffer the burden of healthcare costs, from copays to transportation. The cost of transportation will be cut out when patients opt for the telehealth alternative to visiting physicians in person. Time spent traveling to and sitting in waiting rooms would be removed, therefore eliminating the need for patients to take time off work for appointments. With the convenience of telehealth, conditions can effectively be diagnosed and treated earlier on, allowing people to seek preliminary treatments before they grow costlier. Proactive medical care is beneficial for health outcomes, however, there is a potential drawback for an excessive number of doctor video chats. In an article for Wired, author Sara Harrison highlights this caveat, noting that “a bunch of new visits, even virtual ones, also means a bevy of new bills that someone has to pay.” This could apply to taxpayers or, more specifically, those who receive insurance through their employment.
While several components of healthcare are inaccessible to certain denominations in the U.S., telehealth services have been working to counteract these restrictions. Resistance against abortions and providers like Planned Parenthood have made access to abortion clinics very limited in several parts of the country. A second Wired article on the implications of telemedicine brings to light the fact that “in 27 US cities with populations greater than 50,000 people, there’s no abortion clinic within 100 miles.” Telemedicine has solved this issue in part by allowing women to receive safe, effective abortion pills in the mail. The process is relatively simple: the patient calls a clinic then has an ultrasound to confirm the gestation time before ordering and receiving the pills. The only complication lies in governmental regulations since the pills must be “mailed to an address in the state where the provider is licensed,” but the issue can be circumnavigated by finding the nearest provider, even if they practice in an adjacent state. Telehealth allows for convenient access to healthcare across fields of medicine, from women’s health to mental health services.
I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Jacques Jospitre, co-founder of telepsychiatry service SoHoMD, which is based in New York. A pioneer in the industry, Dr. Jospitre works alongside his team of professional therapists and psychiatrists to hold appointments with their patients via video conference. Following an appointment, the physicians are able to follow up with future conversations and assist in filling prescriptions. Over the phone, Dr. Jospitre tells me that he started this business because he recognized that access to treatment was limited for the working class, and private practitioners and Medicaid clinics provided very little to support mental health. He explains that 80% of the information he uses to diagnose patients comes from their history, so diagnoses can be made more efficiently by relaying the patient’s history ahead of time and spending the majority of the appointment working out a treatment or solution.
Sara Harrison points out that as more patients schedule their first appointments via video conference, more people will realize they love the experience for its effectiveness and will “come back for more medical care on demand.” Though telehealth services are increasing in popularity, it is unlikely that technology will ever fully take jobs away from physicians. Most telemedicine still requires a face-to-face interaction with a real medical professional, or at least the clinical expertise that can only come from years of specific training.
Edited by: Hannah Chay
Illustrator: Lily Xu