Healthcare Technology Featured Article

January 09, 2018

Telemedicine Is Primed to Disrupt Healthcare

Healthcare in the U.S. is becoming an unwieldy beast, one that costs too much for providers, patients, and would-be medical innovators. On average, the U.S. spends $10,000 per capita on healthcare, yet this massive amount of spending has not resulted in a healthier populace.

The spending is only set to ramp up further, at a growth rate of 5.8% a year through 2025, a further ballooning that cannot be easily withstood.

Why is healthcare so much more expensive in the U.S. than it is in other rich nations?

Much of the problem with the state of healthcare in the United States can be attributed to inefficiency. Unnecessary prescriptions, incorrect diagnoses and the like cause massive waste, increasing costs without supplying results. To make matters worse, the supply of medical professionals are unable to meeting the rising demand for care. On average, patients wait 24 days to schedule an appointment with a doctor, a sign that we are experiencing a somewhat alarming shortage of medical professionals.

For the past decade or so, there has been a push to integrate these technologies more vigorously into our current system, to address the bloat that currently plagues it, and provide care to a larger number of people.

Providers have been resistant to adopt it, however, fearing the technology would erode at the quality of care patients receive.

The use of SMS, video conference, and satellite technologies could revolutionize how we deliver medicine, significantly reducing costs on all sides. Using these technologies to help those who aren’t very sick could reduce the burden on traditional clinics and provide better healthcare for those who are well.

“My clinical years in medical school and my internship in family medicine made me feel like I was embroiled in a system of sick care,” Jessica Knox, Medical Director at the telemedicine startup Nurx, told MIT Technology Review.

Knox, after finishing her residency in preventive medicine, was frustrated by the current healthcare system, and decided to join Nurx (pronounced “New Rx”) so she could “reach people who were not in the clinic” and “impact on a very different level than the current medical system.”

Nurx, which raised $5.3 million in startup funding, provides women’s health, allowing customers with a registered accounts to connect with doctors over the Internet, and receive deliveries of their birth control prescriptions. With insurance, the use of the app is free. Without it, a patient simply pays for the price of the prescription. It’s one way for underserved communities to gain access to reproductive healthcare and consult with licensed physicians without waiting. With services like Nurx, much of the fat of a regular doctor’s visit is trimmed. Little time is wasted setting up consultations, receiving medical advice, and obtaining prescriptions.

“As our doctor staffing continues to be outpaced,” Knox said, “we are going to need to find innovative ways to make this struggling supply meet this growing demand.”

In India, telemedicine is already being widely used to address the needs of rural communities. One hospital in India, Lazarus Hospital, is treating renal disease using SMS, digital cameras, and the Internet to stay in touch with patients and monitor their health at a fifteenth of the cost chronic care costs in the U.S.

These cost savings for apps like Nurx and hospitals like Lazarus have not gone unnoticed. Over the past seven years, the amount of funding for digital health startups has increased dramatically. In 2017, the amount invested is projected to hit $6.5 billion. “Consumers seem readier to accept digital products than just a few years ago,” reads an article for The Economist. “[F]irms may well profit handsomely from the shift to digital.”

Telemedicine is primed to disrupt a failing healthcare system. With the ubiquity of smartphones, a large number of people have access to inexpensive medical devices, from heart monitors to ultrasound machines. Despite the shortage of doctors, texting a physician to obtain a prescription could be done in minutes, instead of weeks. With the advancement of telemedicine, receiving quality care in the future may no longer carry the exorbitant price or the inordinate hassle it carries now. Telemedicine could be more than a niche application of cutting-edge tech, could be the future of medicine.

About the Author: Josh Althauser is an entrepreneur with a background in design and M&A. He's also a developer, open source advocate, and designer. You may connect with him on Twitter.

Edited by Mandi Nowitz

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