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Are You Ready for the Hospital Without Walls?

Virtual doctoring is on its way to becoming the new norm.

Key points

  • The use of a virtual doctor’s office has significantly increased during the pandemic.
  • Digital platforms have helped patients be seen right away for everything from physical therapy to mental health.
  • They also allow regular tracking of chronic conditions that can boost the quality of care.
  • Digital health care may be the new model for health care.

Did you know that as a surgeon in America, I can operate on a patient in France without leaving the States? This has already been done through the hands of a robot.

The idea of using artificial intelligence and digital engineering is not new to medicine. Prior to the pandemic, it was infrequent among non-health care professionals. For example, in my emergency rooms, we have robots that house doctors from all over the world to help us actively treat stroke patients in rural areas. The virtual doctor’s office is also not new, but its use has significantly increased and may become the new norm as a result of the pandemic. Is there a benefit to what will be the beginning of the new digital health care era?

Making the transition

I never thought that I could go from seeing or operating directly on patients six days a week to predominately seeing them on my computer. Like all of us, I have had to adjust. The pandemic helped me realize that it could be done. I now only have an in-person clinic two days a month and a nurse available for in-person visits once a week. Also, I operate only once a week.

Everything else has been done virtually. I can see patients in-person for initial visits, for office procedures, or for those who just miss seeing me in person, but most of my practice is now virtual. My patients prefer it because it is convenient for them. This forceful change has significantly lowered my overhead cost, without affecting quality of care. I can now see patients in the evenings or early mornings. More importantly, I have noticed that I can spend more time with patients due to the scheduling conveniences for both parties.

Deciphering all the platforms and their benefits

 Edward Jenner/Pexels
Digital is now the normal.
Source: Edward Jenner/Pexels

I know people are now being bombarded by many different telemedicine options. Let’s talk about what they are and how you decide which one to choose. There is now a plethora of video chat platforms available to communicate with a provider. Many of these platforms, such as Doximity and VSee, are chosen by your provider. Your provider may even use their current electronic health record as a form of teleconference. As long as the platform is secure and private, also known as HIPAA-compliant, the patient should feel comfortable discussing their health care needs.

Next, we have digital apps, also not new and now in abundance but now available for a number of uses. There are telemedicine apps that help you find a primary care doctor or therapist and schedule a visit, such as PlushCare and LiveHealth online. Other platforms, such as UBERDOC, help you find specialists of all kinds. Most have options to use insurance or cash, and in some cases you can be seen the same day.

The introduction of these digital platforms has helped people to be seen right away for several different types of health concerns, including physical therapy and mental health. This is a welcome addition because it allows people to access a provider at convenient times. If you cannot take off of work several times a year, these are great options. And if your deductible is high and you want an affordable option for access to care, such platforms offer reasonable cash prices.

There are tracker apps that many already use for tracking calories burned, steps taken, heart rate, and blood sugar levels, and we all know they have made a huge difference not only in giving patients greater awareness of how they are progressing daily but in sharing that information with their provider, laying the groundwork for better care.

Recently, there has also been a big push for digital diabetes prevention programs such as FruitStreet. These are typically promoted by an employer or insurance company to help decrease the incidence of diabetes among those who are at risk. Such programs go beyond the typical tracker app in having someone virtually following your progress along with your primary doctor. FruitStreet tracks blood markers along with food and activity and can set patients up with regular visits for a health coach or nutritionist.

 Daria Shevstova/Pexels
Tracking your food.
Source: Daria Shevstova/Pexels

Another digital app is Fresh Tri, which uses different technology from the typical food tracking or diabetes prevention app. It draws on brain science related to mindset training and habit formation to create lasting lifestyle change. These digital apps are a great way to help keep your health journey on track in between doctor visits. They have been created not just for short-term success but to sustain a lifetime of healthy habits.

Should digital health care be the new norm?

There is a new concept of a “hospital without walls.” It hinges on the capacity for treating and monitoring many chronic, non-emergent conditions virtually, through an array of platforms. I definitely understand that hospitals are needed; they can do and handle many urgent and emergent conditions that an office is not equipped for, but as technology develops and grows, so will the concept.

Access to good health care continues to be an issue in our country, and having direct access to all types of specialists, with reasonable rates and at convenient times, will allow the people who need it most to have access. Digital health care is going to be the new model for health care, and I look forward to the continued evolution of telemedicine technology—it benefits not only the patient but also the provider. The brick-and-mortar doctor’s office may soon be an afterthought.


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