Last year, when Donato Tramuto discovered a rash on his chest, he simply snapped a picture with his phone. Because he is the CEO of a healthcare company, Physicians Interactive, he sent the photo to a doctor friend who was able to immediately diagnose him with shingles.
For now, that’s not a common experience. But a number of startups are working on various elements of a broader vision of the future of healthcare, one in which trips to the doctor’s office are few and far between. Telemedicine is a hot topic in healthcare, and for good reason. A night in a hospital, or even a trip to the doctor’s office, is expensive. And the ratio of primary care doctors to patients is only going to get worse.
Enter a number of startups working on mobile apps, robots and more to make it easier for you to get healthcare directly from your home. Sherpaa, a New York-based startup, is building a network of doctors that can be contacted by phone or email, including, in some cases, sending a picture of your symptoms. And they’re not alone. In fact, they have quite a bit of competition.
But phones and email have their limitations. While they might work for the average, mostly healthy patient, those with chronic disease need more attention. Yet, even there, technology is disrupting the traditional order through robotics.
Boston Children’s Hospital is already experimenting with robots for outpatient care, using a robot called VGo, which FastCompany describes as, “essentially a teleconferencing system on wheels.” iRobot is also getting into the space (more on them later today).
And in case you’re wondering if patients miss that human touch, an article in Healthcare IT News from January suggests not:
“We have early evidence that patients accept [robot doctors] just fine,” says Bottles. “In a Boston hospital study, patients actually preferred the sociable humanoid robot to the human discharge planner. This surprising result is understandable when you hear the research subject comments that the robot had all the time in the world, did not judge them as stupid for asking so many questions and never had to answer a beeper during the session with the patient.”
In addition to helping with outpatient care, robots are increasingly being used for surgeries. Most prostate surgeries in the U.S. are now administered using a robot, operated by a surgeon. As with the previous case, the idea is to supplement human expertise rather than supplant it.
Despite telemedicine’s promise, barriers to adoption do exist.
“What’s missing right now is we’ve got to change the reimbursement system,” Tramuto told me. Even here there are hopeful signs. Last week I profiled mobile health data startup Ginger.io and wrote about how the company fits nicely with the industry’s transition to managing patient outcomes rather than simply administering services. And even if Obamacare is struck down or repealed, that trend is unlikely to be reversed.
None of this means you’ll never see a doctor again. But those time consuming check-ups to get just a little bit of useful info? Thankfully, they may soon be a thing of the past.