Sunday, January 10, 2021

Telemedicine is Here to Stay

Most of us recognize that Operation Warp Speed was the name given to COVID-19 vaccine development, which succeeded brilliantly and in record time.   Early on, no one predicted that by the end of 2020, two safe and highly effective vaccines would gain emergency use FDA approval. 

There were other developments that also rolled out at warp speed.  Telemedicine is now omnipresent.  Prior to the pandemic, telemedicine existed in pockets throughout the country, but most physicians and patients had never participated in it.  The plan was for it to gain a much larger footprint in the medical landscape in the years to come.  Instead, the transformation occurred in weeks.  Physicians and patients who previously would have rejected the notion of a distant and impersonal virtual visit were now enthusiastic participants.  Patients and caregivers of all ages became quite conversant with Zoom and other similar platforms.   

'The Doctor Will See You Now'

The urgency for warp speed adoption of telemedicine was to mitigate the pandemic.  By seeing patients virtually, we could protect medical personnel and the public by limiting close exposure with potentially infected individuals.  The more we limit close contact with others beyond our household, the more likely we will remain uninfected.

It soon became evident that telemedicine offered many advantages beyond viral mitigation. 

Indeed, telemedicine is not only here to stay, but its continued growth is assured.  Patients will have routine access to medical care from physicians who practice in other states or even in other countries.  Technology will continue to be developed to make the virtual visit more similar to a full office visit exam including a physical examination.   While this sounds heretical and fantastical, patients may undergo actual physical exams without a physician laying a hand or a stethoscope on the patient. Stay tuned.

Like with other technological advances, there will be a cost.  Intimacy and humanity will be sacrificed on the techno-altar of progress.  To those who want to hang onto the personal visit, with real eye contact. body language, palpation of your abdomen and interacting with medical staff you know and trust, I hope there will be a place for you.   But there is a transformation underway in how medical care will be delivered.  And telemedicine right now is the profession’s north star.   The old fashioned office visit will likely end up like the old fashioned hardware store – not exactly extinct but harder and harder to find.

Today, we buy (or download) books from our couches.  Yes, it is very efficient and those who do so routinely would never contemplate hauling out to a brick & mortar store.  But, what of the joy and pleasure of wandering through a bookstore’s aisles, checking out various titles and then leaving with a book or two that was not on your intended list?  Are you all about the destination or the journey?



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