Virtual Medicine: Where Are We Headed?

Psychology, Virtual, Reality, Psyche

The rise of disruptive digital technologies has changed countless aspects of our lives. Whether we are getting a ride to the airport through a ride-sharing app or are sending Bitcoin to a family member overseas, these technologies have made our lives easier, better, and more efficient.

The same can be true in the healthcare industry. There are countless numbers of technologies that are changing the way that medicine is delivered. One of the most disruptive, however, is virtual medicine. In our app-first world, virtual medicine has become a great way for patients to get quality care from the comfort of their own homes. For healthcare providers, it has become easier to check-in with patients and diagnose patient conditions. And for society as a whole, virtual medicine can play a role in reducing total healthcare costs.

We are still in the early days of virtual medicine. Because of this, it is worth taking the time to analyze where virtual medicine is headed. By doing so, we can better anticipate the future and put in the hard work now to capitalize on that future.

Where We Are

Before talking about the future, however, it is necessary to understand where we are now. According to a First Stop Health survey of midsize to large employers, about 91 percent of those employers expect to offer virtual medicine by the end of this year. But having said this, a Willis Towers Watson survey from 2018 states that less than two percent of employers have actually used the service.

While the precise reason for this gap is up for debate, we can look at some more data. According to recent data from JD Power, a whopping 75 percent of Americans weren’t even aware that virtual medicine was an option. Moreover, knowledge about virtual medicine is lowest in rural areas. But even beyond the lack of knowledge about virtual medicine, other respondents also expressed concern about the quality of care that they would receive through virtual medicine. The thinking was that they would receive better overall care if they visited a physician or nurse in a physical doctor’s office.

Putting these challenges aside, however, there is still enthusiasm around the potential for virtual medicine. This is especially true among Millennials. One survey noted that 40 percent of Millennials found a virtual medicine option to be “extremely or very important.” Many patients are also attracted to the convenience factor of virtual medicine. One survey from the Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that 79 percent of patients found scheduling a virtual medicine follow-up appointment as more convenient than scheduling and arranging an in-person follow-up appointment.

Considering all of the above, virtual medicine is in a unique place. On one hand, there is general enthusiasm (particularly among younger patients) about virtual medicine. But on the other hand, whether it is due to lack of knowledge or some concerns about virtual medicine itself, not as many patients are taking advantage of this opportunity.

What’s Next in Virtual Medicine

Because virtual medicine is still in its early innings, there are plenty of opportunities to address many of the frictions and obstacles preventing the larger adoption of virtual medicine.

First, expect to see increased enthusiasm toward virtual medicine by health care providers and employers. This is due to increasing demand from patients and the overwhelming benefits that are available to these parties. Dual enthusiasm is key here. As more patients hear about and try virtual medicine, positive word of mouth will increase adoption. For health care providers, additional virtual medicine options can be financially accretive, leading to benefits like higher productivity and cost-savings. Employers also benefit, as increased virtual medicine use can lead to lower overall costs.

While there may not be an obvious catalyst that sparks this increased adoption, there is too much value to be captured by all of these parties. That 75 percent of Americans who do not know that virtual medicine exists will decrease. From there, word of mouth will make that number decrease even faster. Ultimately, we are just getting started.

Beyond increased enthusiasm, one of the more promising trends on the horizon involves more applications for virtual medicine. Virtual medicine is moving beyond the simple check-in if you (or your child) are experiencing symptoms of the flu or another common illness. Instead, virtual medicine will be an increasingly cost-effective way to provide care after major life events.

As just one example, let’s say that you were recently injured in an accident. You went to the hospital and received all of the necessary treatment to be discharged. That said, even though you may be happy to return home, you recognize that you will need to stay in touch with your hospital as you recover. In the past, this would have meant that you needed to travel to the hospital (or another location) to see a nurse or physician for a follow-up appointment.

With advancements in virtual medicine, however, those burdensome trips can be a thing of the past. You can leverage virtual medicine speak to attend your follow-up appointments, consult with home health nurses on questions related to your recovery, and even to change medications if necessary. It is easier for both you and your medical team.

The future of virtual medicine also involves smart peripheral devices that provide even better remote care. At this point, virtual medicine mainly involves a patient using their desktop computer or mobile device to video chat with a health care provider. This has already provided substantial value, but we are only just getting started.

In the next few years, we will start to see new devices that will be designed around the virtual health experience. It is all but inevitable as the virtual health industry grows. Moreover, the rise of Internet of Things (“IoT”) technology and smart sensors means that patients will be able to gather useful data for medical professionals.

There are plenty of potential medical devices that can supplement the virtual health experience. For instance, telemonitoring devices for older patients can capture their motion inside their homes. If the patient falls or is sedentary for a long period, the healthcare provider (along with emergency services) can automatically be notified.

As another example, more advanced clinical tools will become available for telemonitoring purposes. Whether they are pulse oximeters, biometric scales, or something else, these tools will provide up-to-the-minute data on a patient’s condition. In turn, this will make the virtual medicine experience better and more accurate.

A Fascinating Future

These are just some potential advancements in the world of virtual medicine. As with predicting future trends and opportunities, there is likely a game-changing development that is unforeseeable at the moment. Nonetheless, the trends listed above will certainly be factors as the practice of virtual medicine continues to grow.

Whether you are a medical professional, a patient who is interested in virtual medicine, or an employer who is interested in this discussion, it is certainly worth your time to monitor this space. Adoption will continue to increase and virtual medicine will permanently move from novelty to mainstay in the medical profession. Best of all, this is a positive trend for all involved parties. Virtual medicine will continue to be cost-effective, extremely efficient, and highly valuable.

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