Healthcare is changing. After years of stagnation and inadequate innovations, the call for care that is higher quality and more accessible and that costs less is beginning to be answered. We’re starting to see incremental progress toward meaningful healthcare technology and reimagined delivery models. New developments in digital medicine, DIY care and AI are emerging, with the potential to advance the industry in ways that previous attempts have failed.
Despite signs of progress, doctor’s office wait times continue to rise. Middle- and low-income patients are in critical need of more affordable primary and specialty care. Across the country, critical access and other rural hospitals are closing at an alarming rate, leaving people in those areas struggling to find the time, transportation and money needed to see a physician. Primary care visits are declining, while our overall population health continues to lag behind most developed countries.
These issues are the impetus for momentum in digital medicine and direct-to-consumer healthcare. Consumers today expect more from all of the services they use, and healthcare is no exception. New, niche providers and technology focused on patient experience are setting a new standard for healthcare delivery. Some solutions—those that offer unprecedented convenience alongside real medical expertise—have the potential to improve outcomes.
The Rise Of Direct-To-Consumer Care
According to Brandessence Market Research, virtual medicine and the broader telehealth market will grow from more than $1.9 billion in 2018 to more than $13 billion in 2025. Even among subpar providers, demand is rising, and Frost & Sullivan has predicted that telehealth “will gain mainstream adoption in the overall mix of healthcare services.”
Driven by mass consumer interest in genetic screening kits from companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA, at-home medical testing and diagnostics are also on a steady upswing. According to a report published by Kalorama Information (via Ozy), the market has increased by more than 1,500% and is projected to hit $352 million in 2020. Health and fitness wearables are another driving force. According to a report published by Business Insider, wearables are worn by most Americans and viewed by 75% of users as beneficial to health. They’re providing patients with an array of data to review with their doctors.
Furthermore, an influx of specialty healthcare companies, including myLAB Box, Sword Health, Quanovate and dozens of others, has driven at-home and DIY medicine beyond wearables and genetic testing. Consumers now have at their fingertips at-home solutions for STD screening, AI-enabled fertility tracking, UTI testing, Pap smears, physiotherapy and much more. Connected medical examination devices allow a thorough doctor’s “visit” from anywhere and are growing more sophisticated. At-home, internet-enabled otoscopes and stethoscopes and camera-equipped tongue depressors are now for sale to consumers online, morphing the living room into an exam room.
Your Doctor, Anywhere
What all of this means for doctors and the healthcare industry is that it’s time to shift conventional thinking about the exam room and the ways in which care can be delivered and managed. When a physician can listen to a patient’s lungs or heart remotely or can intelligently analyze data from a patient’s wearable, the dynamic (and outcome) of an exam is flipped on its head. Not only does it lower the cost of a visit, but it also introduces far better access for sick, rural, low-income or time-strapped patients to receive quality care.
The FCC appears to agree with this concept given its recent allocation of $100 million for a program that will provide virtual visits and remote patient monitoring for low-income Americans. It estimates the program will save $305 billion in annual healthcare costs.
These are steps in the right direction. Digital medicine—including text-based models like ours—has already made headway in addressing the key healthcare challenges of cost, access and quality. It allows physicians to refocus on treating illness and gives patients a flexible, affordable way to reach a doctor when they need one. Now, with transformative technology such as connected devices that enable a full medical examination remotely and AI-powered tools that integrate data from at-home tests, doctors are becoming even more effective at delivering a high-quality experience for every patient. There is much more ground to gain, and I hope these developments lead to additional innovation in the coming years.
Still, doctors and patients must take care not to fall into tech overreliance. The right care at the right time should remain a guiding principle, which will sometimes require an in-person visit. As a best practice, we urge doctors providing virtual care to remain vigilant about the safe limits of technology and review cases at a very high level to ensure quality. Likewise, patients should lean on their provider’s advice and guidance when choosing devices and other at-home options.
Our healthcare system has been in dire need of reimagination for decades. While some might resist the concept of the living room as the exam room or worry about the efficacy of at-home testing, these solutions have been born from a variety of long-standing unmet needs. Consumers want more control, affordability and flexibility in their care.
Providers should embrace the changes taking place, learn from them and find a way to connect new offerings with a quality primary care experience. Those who do, those who build upon where we are today, will be at the forefront of improving patient care.