- Two women supporting an 86 year old woman as she slowly walks towards a doctor’s office through snow and ice.
- A doctor driving to his/her practice on icy roads.
My wife’s grandmother is 86 yrs old. She has been in good health for most of her adult life, but her body is finally succumbing to the inevitable maladies of old age. Failing eyesight, headaches and walking issues are a part of her life now. Visits to the doctor have become more frequent. Taking her to the doctor is proving to be a difficult undertaking especially during snowy icy New England winters. Two people on each side of her are required to support her walking, putting all of them at risk of a fall and injury. There has to be a solution to this that not only lowers the risks to patients/caregivers, but makes it convenient for the elderly to see their doctors.
Consider the doctor’s situation as well. Last Monday was a perfect example. A number of Massachusetts schools cancelled Monday classes at the last minute, following the weekend blizzard that dumped over 2 feet of snow. The roads were slippery in many areas due to ice formation during the night making them unsafe to drive. Yet doctors who are considered as emergency personnel were expected to report to work regardless of the weather, unless their practice was officially closed. Just like the postman delivers mail come rain, snow, sleet or shine, a doctor is expected to deliver healthcare. In the present fee-for-service healthcare model, if the doctor is not present at the practice to deliver care to the patient, then there is no service and hence no revenue. Yet a doctor is risking his/her own life trying to get to the hospital on slippery icy streets. If something happens to the doctor on the way to work, how is that going to help the patients or the practice?
Telehealth/Telemedicine is a solution for those situations. Delivering healthcare is a challenging and complicated business. Some situations require face to face meetings for doctors and patients; others do not. Through the use of audio-visual technology and the internet, the doctor and patient can “see” each other from the safety of their homes. Based on his/her findings the doctor can recommend appropriate course of action. A number of routine sick visits can be handled in this manner. This is especially advantageous during adverse weather conditions when driving to the practice can become an adventure sport.
The benefits of telehealth/telemedicine are hard to ignore. Check out Nirav Desai’s excellent blog for more info on telehealth. Lack of reimbursement and secure technology had stopped many practices from offering telemedicine services to their patients. That is not the case anymore. Many practices, especially in the mental services areas are using telehealth technologies for consults. Surgeons like Dr. James Rosser and others are pioneering tele-surgery techniques to advance the use of telemedicine in operative scenarios.
As healthcare delivery transitions from a fee-for-service model to an outcome driven care model, telehealth-telemedicine is going to play an even bigger role in providing high quality patient care at lower costs. Hospitals and physician practices run the risk of losing their business to competitors who will be quick to adopt technologies that align well with the changing healthcare environment.