When I became chief medical officer of MeMD five years ago, one of the biggest concerns about telemedicine was the scant information available about the patients we were treating. This worry was shared among medical, nursing and other healthcare boards as well as state legislatures and governors. Because, without objective information about patients’ medical history, how could practitioners make a reliable diagnosis and recommend a course of treatment?
Flash forward to the present, and this lack of objective patient information is quickly waning. With continuing advances in mobile devices, wearable sensors and artificial intelligence, telehealth providers have access to a massive amount of objective patient data, with more coming in the weeks, months and years ahead.
For example, Amazon’s Alexa and its artificial intelligence capabilities will have the capability to act as a virtual medical coach in the years to come. The same is true of Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri. A new report from geneticist Eric Topol predicts that such technologies will enable more accurate medical diagnoses while also helping to manage and monitor chronic conditions.
Why is this important? Most Americans don’t realize that $7 out of every $10 spent on healthcare in the U.S. is used to diagnose and monitor chronic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and obesity-related illness. Harnessing the power of technology to manage such conditions will drastically cut healthcare costs while also improving patients’ medical outcomes and quality of life.
Another exciting technological advance is the introduction of mobile diagnostic devices such as internet and mobile-ready stethoscopes. These tools, which people can use at home (as directed by a medical provider), provide invaluable objective data to telehealth providers caring for virtual patients.
These are just a few of the advances on the horizon for telehealth – and we’re just barely scratching the surface. Welcome to a brave new world of virtual healthcare – one that is revolutionizing the way patients receive care in the 21st century.