Guest post by Jeff Goldsmith, vice president of marketing, Revolve Robotics.
We will never return to the days of house calls and family doctors who knew you from birth. However, thanks to advances in mobile and digital technology we are well on our way to a new golden age in medicine, one that will offer near instant access to electronically delivered healthcare from humans, anywhere, any time. The groundwork has already been set – there have been more than one billion tablets produced by the tech industry (one for every seven humans), so we certainly have enough screens to get a caregiver’s face in front of every patient.
So, what’s the next step? An understanding and commitment to using this technology to give everyone access to care, whether they are an aging boomer, someone living in a rural area without enough specialists, or a very sick kid who can’t travel because of their treatment regime.
This isn’t science fiction – robotic technology and tablets are already being combined in schools, in homes and in hospitals to better patient experiences. For example, a public elementary school in Round Rock, Texas recently accommodated a student receiving chemo in Philadelphia by using a telepresence robot to put her back “in” the classroom. The technology allowed her to look around the room, interact with fellow students and ask questions as if she were there in person – all for under $1,000.
The ROI of this type of set-up for schools is impossible to calculate nationwide, but the benefits are massive. Not only does the child benefit, so do their classmates who learn about inclusion, the school which evolves its technology, and the community because it gains one more educated human being. More than 40,000 children undergo treatment for cancer each year in the US – imagine giving each of them this opportunity.
The same applies to the 1 in 68 kids in America with autism. Section 504 regulations require a school district to provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability.” This is a fairly ambiguous requirement, but researchers are looking at helping kids with autism both by coaching them at home and at school with telepresence robots that help the coaches look around and observe in a more natural, controlled way. The results are positive across the board.
And telepresence hardware for patients isn’t just for kids. By 2030, 20 percent of the United States population will be over 65, up from less than 15 percent today. This increase means that one out of every five people will soon require care. Costs for elder care are also on the rise. Organizations like Aging 2.0 are exploring many novel ways of helping humanity cope. And cope we will.
That’s because we can put telemedicine in the homes of the elderly. This increases quality of care for patients and reduces the costs of aging in several ways. We can lower the number of required physical visits and the number of health incidents by increasing the frequency and quality of consultations with healthcare experts through telepresence technology. Telepresence also puts managers and children in closer contact with care providers, and allows us to bring health data instantly from the elderly to their providers. Change in blood pressure? A doctor can help the patient avoid the emergency room by sending a trained caregiver to the home directly. These advances will even extend retirees life at home, reducing the need for a nursing home. Society, the children and the patient all benefit greatly.
Telepresence technology will also be of huge importance in rural areas of the country. The US currently has 6,100 “Health Professional Shortage Areas.” These are rural areas where the physician to population ratio is greater than one to 3,500. Employing a network of telepresence tech, paired with tablets will increase drastically the number of patients a doctor can see in those areas.
It’s no coincidence that in 2015, 64 percent of American consumers said that they would see a doctor via video, according to the much quoted American Well 2015 Telehealth Survey. The public knows that the technology is there, and it’s only a matter of time before the medical industry adopts it universally. Every human in need of care can and should have a tablet, paired with a robotic telepresence device.