One of the most terrifying stories I ever heard from my Dad was the time he was hit by a car while on vacation in Russia.
He had just retired and was checking out St. Petersburg when a car blindsided him and sent him flying into a snowy embankment.
What followed was nothing short of a series of miracles: not only did he survive with just minor bruising, but he somehow managed to find an English speaking doctor that helped him avoid the bureaucracy of the local Russian healthcare system.
Currently, there are many expensive solutions to deal with those types of problems. You can buy a service that will airlift you out to specialized hospitals, or carry a complete set of patient records on you to prevent complications.
But there’s another solution quietly brewing that would allow you to consult a doctor that not only speaks your language but give an expert diagnosis within minutes.
It’s the same solution that is quietly revolutionizing the medical industry and how employers may offer medical care to their employees: Telemedicine.
The problem is, no one knows about it.
What is telemedicine, and why does it matter?
I’ve written about the what telemedicine is in a previous post, but to quickly sum it up, I’ll use 3 words:
Remote Patient Consultation.
Rather than driving to a specific office, waiting in the waiting room, and then seeing a doctor in a controlled environment, it’s the reverse.
If you log into a secure environment through something like a tablet, you have the option of getting medical advice on-demand for certain care, such as managing chronic conditions or over-the-counter prescriptions.
Or, in my dad’s case, badly bruised legs.
There are a ton of benefits to telemedicine: not only does it offer lower waiting time, but lower costs and increased access to care as long as you have a stable network connection.
This used to a pipe dream for the medical industry, but the technological advances have made this almost a reality.
The presence of cheap mobile devices such as tablets, combined with secure platforms along with 4G (and the advent of 5G) means that the main barriers to this are not around technology: instead, the issues are in legal, insurance, ethics, and infrastructure domains.
As a result, it’s not just hospitals that are looking into telemedicine: private companies and even your employers are as well.
Did you know that 91% of employers with 500 or more employees are expected to offer telemedicine options by 2020?
It’s okay if you didn’t: the actual use of telemedicine is around 1–10%.
According to Stephany Verstraete, chief marketing officer at Teledoc Health, there are 3 reasons.
“First, many times employees don’t know they have the benefit.
Second, employees don’t remember they have the benefit at the moment they need it.
Third is the notion of behavior change. Employees are hesitant at first, asking themselves is this quality care?”
This makes sense on a fundamental level. It has been ingrained into society that we go somewhere (a hospital, an urgent care clinic, etc.) when we’re sick and need to see a medical professional. They can usually diagnose in-person
Telemedicine, on the other hand, is a completely different model of interaction: if you’re sick or in pain, are you willing to mess around with some new app to try and get care?
Especially when, if you’re unfortunate, their diagnosis might be to come into a hospital?
Something this radical needs to take its time to work its way into the medical lexicon. But it’s slowly happening.
If you have heard anything about telemedicine recently, it might have been that Teladoc Health acquired Intouch Health in an attempt to create a single enterprise solution for both hospitals and employers.
This follows news that American Well, another large player in this space, consolidated with Aligned telehealth to create an enterprise telepsychiatry platform.
Studies have shown that after people use telemedicine once, they are very likely to use it again.
The major challenge for telemedicine right now isn’t technological, legal, or anything else: while problems in these domains exist, there are companies and people that are actively working to solve them.
If you happen to be working in the telemedicine industry (or are hiring for positions), I’d love to have a chat with you.
I write about productivity, UX Design, and Healthcare regularly. You can check out my course on Design Communication here.