Is a supercomputer going to replace your doctor? Not quite.
But, doctors and hospitals across the country are embracing digital developments that will change how we interact with providers. These “telehealth” services include video visits with doctors, smartphone apps, and health records kept on a computer (not paper).
One group that stands to benefit most from this switch is older Americans. Telehealth offers ways for people to reach doctors located far away. Imagine consulting with an expert who lives 1,000 miles away. People with chronic conditions may not need to make as many trips to their doctor’s office or care center. Medical professionals will be able to help more people in less time.
Here are a few telemedicine trends and how they can help you:
Video conference calls are on the rise at work and in the doctor’s office. With services like MDLIVE, patients can “meet” with a health care provider who is miles away. This means better access for rural folks and fewer treks to nearby doctors’ offices, too. Telemedicine may be especially helpful to patients with unique or chronic health conditions, who need to be monitored often, or who find it difficult to get to appointments. Therapists, nutritionists, and personal trainers also are making more connections with clients who live miles away.
Digital health records
Does your doctor use a patient portal? About 90 percent do. These secure password-protected websites let you go online to ask the doctor questions,
request a prescription refill or referral, schedule an appointment, and fill out forms. These portals are often linked to digital health records that have replaced paper files. Computerized records are easier for health care providers to access and share (with permission), which could improve coordination of your care, especially if you are visiting several doctors.
Mobile devices and apps
When was the last time you saw a mercury thermometer at your doc’s office? Now, there are mobile devices that can take your temp. Others check your pulse, blood levels of oxygen and glucose, and even radiation exposure. There’s even a mobile electrocardiogram (EKG) device. In a fully digital doctor’s office, your vital information could be easily added to your confidential health record. Machines that digitally monitor health are also being used in patients’ homes to share data with doctors. Also worth a look: smartphone apps for health. Some help you manage chronic conditions like diabetes, choose healthful foods, and take medications on time. Ask your doctor which ones to try.
You’ve probably heard about Watson, the IBM supercomputer that ruled “Jeopardy!” The silicon brain has been used by doctors to solve puzzling medical conditions, including a Tokyo woman’s undiagnosed case of leukemia. Will you be describing your symptoms to a computer anytime soon? Not likely. But researchers are using machines like Watson to improve their understanding of our bodies and disease. These systems can read through vast amounts of medical information to help arrive at a diagnosis quickly. Your doctor won’t need to have a supercomputer in the office, but will be able to tap into all this information over the Internet.