By Denise Fletcher
Within five years, accessing medicine is going to be very similar to the online shopping experience, which is both convenient and personal. There was a time when doctors would make house calls, showing up with a little black bag to check your vital signs. Today, we‘re headed back to that model – but the doctor will appear on your computer instead of knocking at the door.
Just as Amazon changed the way we access goods, telemedicine is revolutionizing the way we access healthcare. Today, for example, you can use a smart phone to take a picture of a mole and have it analyzed for signs of skin melanoma. Below are some scenarios that I see coming within the next five years:
Goodbye stuffy waiting rooms. Often for the elderly, the sick or the parents of newborns, life feels like a string of doctor appointments. These visits typically involve monitoring vital signs, taking measurements and ensuring the course of treatment is working. But very soon, the idea of trudging through a snowy parking lot or carrying a newborn into a stuffy waiting room to see the doctor will be a distant memory. Patients will be able to communicate face to face with doctors via their smartphone, television or computer screen.
Sayonara to the mammogram. “Smart” homes will not only monitor room temperature and electricity, your “smart” home will also track your health. Sensors embedded in homes (and perhaps in the buttons and fabric of shirts) will keep an eye on us 24/7 without the need for wires or pin pricks. Wouldn’t it be great if a camera could conduct a simple test, and tell you every day that you are cancer free? Or alert your doctor if irregular heartbeats are detected or that you are at high risk for stroke? Today, Xerox researchers are working on ways to use video cameras for contactless health monitoring that would make some of these automated systems possible and eventually used in a “smart” home.
The doctor is (always) in. Some doctors will work primarily in the physical world, others will concentrate on telemedicine and some will work as hybrids – seeing patients in their offices but also visiting them using telemedicine technology. Doctors might pull up test results on a screen and set up a video chat to walk a patient through a prognosis. Geography will no longer restrict access to specialists. The world’s leading neurosurgeon could oversee an operation in Morelia, Mexico — in real time — while sitting in a Paris office. Think of how this could help patients in rural areas or emerging countries.
While there are aspects of medicine that online visits and sensors can’t replace, many medical experts believe doctors have the skills to know when in-person visits are needed. Meanwhile, telemedicine can help reduce the costs of services and make it easier to get help when you need it the most.
Denise Fletcher is responsible for leading healthcare innovation through Xerox’s research and development pipeline in order to serve customer and industry needs. As Chief Innovation Officer for the Xerox Healthcare Payer and Pharma group, Denise spends a lot of time engaging with customers and connecting research and emerging technology to their business processes. She has six pending U.S. patents in healthcare, and recently was recognized by Front End Innovation as one of the top 40 women in Innovation.
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We asked Xerox people
Do you think that you will “meet” with your doctor via webcam over the next five years?
What will be easier with “virtual” doctor’s appointments? What will be harder?
More than 80 percent of those who responded expect to visit their doctor over a webcam in the next five years. Many mentioned that virtual appointments would be “more convenient for both parties.” Why? “If medical care can be dispensed faster and more accurately, people would be able to get back to their regular lives faster and be more productive.” Beyond that, “if you’re not feeling well, the last thing you want to do is get out of bed … and sit in a waiting room full of other sick people.”
However, there was a lot of concern about “de-personalization of healthcare.” One person remarked, “While there is a huge convenience factor to meeting with a doctor over webcam, it doesn’t lend itself to the importance of developing a lasting relationship [between the doctor and the patient].” Some questioned the doctor’s ability “to properly diagnose a possible life-threatening condition” virtually. “Both the doctor and the patient will have to overcome the loss of several sensory stimulations. Touch and smell will both be unavailable via webcam.” One person took it to the extreme, joking that rather than see his doctor via webcam, “I will just Google my symptoms, self-diagnose and buy medicine from the black market.”
Many believe the possibilities created by telemedicine are endless. One person pondered the development of apps or devices that track our body chemistry. “Think of it as ‘Medical Remote Alert.’ That would even take some work off the shoulders of high level MDs, leaving this low level task to techs or even computers!”
The overall nature of doctor-patient relationships is likely to change, predicts Denise Fletcher. Rapport between a patient and doctor could be established quickly because even doctors on call will have advanced access to an in-depth and easy-to-navigate medical record. Denise sees many other changes on the horizon.