Is The Future Of Medicine Completely Digital?
That’s the question on the minds of medical providers, patients, and insurance companies in 2019. As medical providers continually seek new ways to improve the patient experience, care providers also try to maximize efficiency while minimizing cost. New tools are developed all the time with these goals, but what is taking so long?
Patients and providers agree that one of the greatest challenges in healthcare today is access. Simply trying to reach a medical practice requires patients to follow an interactive voice response system, implemented to improve the patient experience and direct calls through the proper channel and reach the best contact, eliminating the need for a human operator to direct a call and allowing multiple incoming calls to be simultaneously channeled. Sounds efficient, right?
The Personal Touch
While medical care providers seek to economize and increase efficiency, patients still experience challenges, like reaching the correct person, reaching a voicemail box – or worse – a full voicemail box. Patients feel like the ability to reach a live person that can meet their needs is shrinking.
Technology exists to simplify the lives of humans, and has improved much in our world, uncomplicating much of what was previously difficult – but healthcare has yet to catch up. Care providers have explored new options for patients, like online patient portals for scheduling routine appointments, accessing test results, and submitting general questions or requests to office staff, in hopes of allowing patients more options to meet their needs.
Medical insurance providers are offering similar tools to members, digitizing claims and granting access for care and coverage questions through member portals, including cost-of-care calculators to put the power of healthcare costs right in the patient’s pocket.
What This Year Will Bring
In 2018, Motley Fool reported Amazon exploring ways to enter the healthcare channel. Once Amazon dips its toes into a concept, consumers can expect rapid expansion and consumption to follow. Amazon is investing in healthcare as the next big area to take advantage of market share, banking on insured consumers wanting more options.
Nontraditional players entering the field, including tech giants, jumping into healthcare to explore options to improve overall, including accessibility, speed, and affordability. Patient waiting rooms are full of sick people waiting for an hour. Eyeing a similar need, traditional major “drug store” retailers like CVS are entering into boutique experiences, and providing more than just over-the-counter cold medicine and annual vaccinations – like the flu shot – in addition to basic prescription needs. Doc-in-the-box concepts, including basic patient care and treatments, aim to provide a personalized approach to patient care in hopes of helping patients avoid overcrowding in physician offices.
Alternatively, telemedicine has been an active means to provide patient care for several years now as the foundation for basic medical care innovation, with more providers offering this option as a lower-cost alternative to patients – with the added benefit of reducing patient care time, staffing needs, overcrowded offices – much less the physical real estate required for an actual office.
Amazon and telemedicine are betting big on online service being the future. Bending that “cost curve” and getting healthcare to the people who don’t otherwise have access and giving them a viable option that is affordable to them to resolve health issues is a win-win-win. The science behind this is hard to argue with; electronic health records (EHR), apps, and activity trackers have propelled healthcare into the digital world, aided further by integration with patient portals. Other countries already put the power of healthcare decisions in the hands of the patient – could the U.S. be far behind?