How technology is changing the way we interact with the healthcare system

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Where finding the answers to health-related questions or getting a health check used to mean calling the doctor’s office to schedule an appointment and then physically going to get checked out, advances in technology have changed that process.

With just a few clicks on a computer or phone, anyone can look up symptoms and conditions online, book an appointment with a doctor, see a doctor virtually, or have dressings and prescriptions delivered within days.

Technological advances such as telehealth services, social media, and home test kits are changing the way people interact with the healthcare system and manage their personal health. While doctors have been using technology in their practice for years, patients have also begun to harness the power of technology for medical applications amid the pandemic.

Telehealth services

The United States currently has an average of approximately 650,000 cases of COVID-19 per day, more than double the peak of last winter. And given the number of people using home testing kits or not getting tested at all, the true number is likely even higher.

Due to the rapid spread of Omicron and Delta variants, many people are avoiding public spaces and potential COVID-19 hotspots. But when a strange rash appears on your stomach at night or a scratchy throat hits, people still need answers and relief.

Instead of leaving home and driving to the hospital, people are turning to telehealth services to get medical help from the comfort of their own home. Telehealth, or the delivery of health care from a distance, has made it more convenient – ​​and sometimes cheaper – to get medical questions answered.

Many health organizations have expanded their telehealth offerings in light of COVID-19 to do their part in preventing the spread. Using telehealth, doctors and patients can communicate without being in the same room using video chats, phone calls, emails and text messages. These services often include an online portal, which allows patients to book an appointment or renew a prescription without going through a receptionist or doctor.

According to market research by IQVIA, there was 10 times more telehealth visits in March 2021 than in the same month a year earlier. And while telehealth services offer greater access to health care for everyone, it is an especially valuable option for people in middle to lower class regions and countries due to the removal of potential barriers such as access to transportation and costs of in-person care.

Benefits of telehealth services

Seeing a medical professional for a routine exam, diagnosis, or preventive test can be expensive in the United States, even with health insurance. Although the cost of a visit varies depending on the service and what your insurance covers, according to Statista, total out-of-pocket healthcare payments in the United States exceeded $380 billion in 2020.

With telehealth services, patients can describe their symptoms over the phone, provide photos (if available), or use a phone or computer’s video camera to show a doctor what’s bothering them. If it’s a less serious condition, doctors can often diagnose a patient without seeing them in person.

These virtual services offer a number of benefits, such as preventing a potentially contagious person from visiting a practitioner’s office and spreading their disease. Virtual tours are also often easier to fit into a busy schedule and eliminate the need to arrange childcare.

A 2017 study by Health Affairs also found that, on average, a telehealth visit costs about $79, while an in-person visit with a doctor costs closer to $150. However, other studies have found that telehealth services could actually increase the cost of a doctor’s visit in some cases due to “additional medical use”.

When you’re home for a virtual visit, doctors can even use your environment to uncover a potential allergen, and occupational therapists can see what a patient may need to navigate their homes more efficiently. More convenient and private access to counseling and mental health services is another benefit of telehealth.

Delivery services

When prescribing a medication, it is more common for your doctor to notify a pharmacy near you to fill the prescription and have it ready for pickup. But many online pharmacies and medical providers will now also deliver your prescriptions directly to you.

Resources like Amazon Pharmacy deliver prescribed medications at no additional cost. The service even offers an 80% discount on medication for Prime members.

Most major pharmacies also offer delivery services, such as Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid and Walmart. Medication delivery is convenient and also a great resource for people who often forget to refill their medications or don’t have time to pick them up.

Although mail delays are a potential problem, for those without access to public transport, delivery services are an extremely valuable option.

Social Media

If you’ve ever woken up with a weird rash, you might have turned to Google for answers before seeking professional help. Although an online search cannot professionally diagnose anyone, having answers can often be reassuring, at least for a while.

According to a study by The Journal of Internet Medical Research, 90% of seniors have used social media to find and share health information. Another study found that more 90% of millennials opt for online medical advice rather than seeking professional help. This may be due to a lack of insurance or simply for convenience.

Social media is not only used by patients, but also by healthcare professionals. Some doctors have embraced platforms like TikTok to confirm or debunk medical myths and even offer advice on skincare products, Mental Healthand sex education.

This little bit of information makes it easier for people to understand a more complicated topic, share it, and engage in a potentially difficult or tricky conversation in a simpler and more engaging way.

Healthcare professionals also use social media to post medical research, share patient reviews and market their practice, and offer basic health advice. Sharing information about the COVID-19 pandemic online was essential during the early stages of studying the virus, as new information was constantly being uncovered.

And with new variants, information about testing, isolation time, potential symptoms and vaccines are widely shared online and on social media platforms to keep everyone informed.

Patient Perspectives on Virtual Health Services

A COVID-19 consumer report conducted by McKinsey & Company found that approximately 40% of respondents said they would continue to use telehealth in the future, up from just 11% before the pandemic. As for doctors, 58% of those questioned said they perceived telehealth “more favorably” than before the pandemic.

While a national Ganey Press Inquiry found that a majority of people enjoyed the convenience and privacy of virtual health visits (89% would recommend their provider after having had a telehealth visit), it also discovered plenty of room for improvement.

According to the study, patients think the process of scheduling a virtual appointment and a reliable video and audio connection could be improved. To combat this, the Harvard Business Review recommends that all specialist physicians implement a central telemedicine capability to streamline efforts to deliver telehealth services to patients: “While not all visits can be performed virtually , providing this option where possible should become the standard approach.

However, not everyone has a positive view of broader virtual health solutions. Some people are concerned about routine medical practices, such as checking blood pressure, “slip through the cracks” and the loss of a trusting patient-physician relationship.

Overall comfort levels with telehealth increased since 2019, mainly due to an increased need during the pandemic. Going forward, telehealth offerings will likely continue to grow and remain a solid option for caring for people of all ages.

Image Credit: Halfpoint / Shutterstock.com

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