Image | NEC Corporation of America
Like most children his age, our three year old son occasionally gets sick. The funny thing is that so far, this did not always necessitate a visit the pediatrician´s office: we contact her via email or Whatsapp to inform her of any problems, sending the results of a diagnosis or sending photos of the symptoms. As a good doctor should, the pediatrician always responds and gives us medical advice for what we should do. Of the last five interactions that we had with her in the past year, three were electronic interactions and two were physical visits, as mandatory vaccines cannot be administered remotely. This saved us time and money.
This is just an example of the reality that is slowly becoming more common in the world, although it obviously depends on several factors: from where you live to your doctor´s profile. A recent study made in the United States by the Health Research Institute via the PwC Consulting firm offered interesting data about the role that mobile devices have been playing in the country, in terms of the doctor-patient relationship.
Some of the highlighted data, derived from having surveyed a thousand doctors, are the following:
- Almost 50% of patients and 79% of doctors believe that the use of mobile devices can help the latter to better coordinate health care.
- 50% of doctors believe that digital visits or e-visits could replace more than 10% of patient visits to clinics.
- 28% of patients said that they have a health app on their mobile, tablet or smartphone.
Another important contribution to the study is the comparison over time, since the same survey was conducted in 2010. The following graph shows, for example, that doctors´ access to electronic medical records went from 12% in 2010 to 45% in 2014. This increase is due in part to the investment made by the federal government in 2009 for 25 billion dollars to encourage adopting electronic medical records. Another fact is that among doctors, reviewing images via mobile devices increased from 7% to 32%.
In their study, PwC also presented recommendations based on their observations. One is the need to understand what health technology should define the digital strategy to come (both for patients and doctors). For this, they recommend that companies who offer medical solutions speak the same language as doctors and patients, in other words, that both supply and demand are in harmony to cover all needs.
Another recommendation that we have seen is already happening, is doctors recommending appropriate health related apps. However, the report says that this choice is not easy, as it is currently estimated that there are around 13,600 apps in this category. In the study they indicate the efforts by a local health system (New Orleans) to identify the best apps. Another similar case of the app “filtration” not cited in the study is the ”Health Apps Library” from the National Health System in the United Kingdom, which also looks to guide the patient in adopting medical or health applications.
Doctor-patient relationship, goodbye to face-to-face visits?
Numerous studies similar to the PwC one have been made in recent years. One very recent (from this same month) and also carried out in the United States, is from the consultant HIMSS Analytics. They cite that 28% of hospitals in this country use smartphones in their medical processes and 24% use tablets. Additional data is that 69% of doctors interviewed indicated that they use apps to access clinical information.
Until today, the scene occurring in the United States (and other industrialized countries) adopting mobile devices in health care did not apply to the majority of countries in the world, but there are two certainties worth mentioning. The first is that this type of technology and the growing virtual doctor-patient relationship is eventually expanding to global coverage. The example can be seen in the role that the mobile is playing in the fight against ebola in Africa.
The second certainty is that, at least in my case and surely many other families located in developing countries, we see our pediatrician less and less thanks to virtual visits made via the mobile or tablet. But of course, much will depend if the family doctor is immersed in these types of technologies or if he is more traditional and prefers to see people in person, even for a minor symptom.
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