In the not-too-distant past, family doctors enjoyed long-term, personal relationships with patients. They delivered babies, administered vaccines and made house calls when needed. But in an age marked by insurance overhauls, skyrocketing medical costs and a shortage of healthcare professionals, the doctor of 50 years ago seems almost mythical.
While the days of the house call are long-gone, technologies developed in recent years have vastly improved medical care. From transformative treatments for once-fatal illnesses, to personal health apps and wearable technologies, healthcare is evolving at an extremely rapid rate.
At the heart of this evolution is the widespread use of tablets and smartphones. According to Epocrates, 247 million Americans have downloaded at least one healthcare app for their personal use. The mHealth industry, valued at $1.8 billion, is expected to climb to more than $20 billion by 2018. How is this exploding trend affecting the doctor-patient relationship? The mHealth environment is changing the dynamic in three key ways:
1. The Empowered Patient -- Today's doctor-patient relationship is less about "doctor knows best" and more about patients who take an active role in their care. At last count, more than 100,000 healthcare apps were available for download. Patients are taking advantage of innumerable healthcare resources as well as tools to track and monitor nearly every aspect of their health.
The tendency among patients to go online to research their symptoms and make their own diagnoses creates its own unique challenges, but the cumulative effect is increased collaboration between patients and doctors. Physicians treating patients who are knowledgeable and empowered can gather more precise information and deliver more personalized care.
2. The Mobile Physician -- With recent healthcare reform, providers are searching for ways to deliver a better patient experience at a lower cost and with better outcomes -- and many doctors are using mobile devices to achieve their objectives.
Smartphones are the most prominent device among physicians in the care setting, and 62 percent of doctors use tablets. Secure texting apps have rendered pagers obsolete while also enabling secure communication with patients and other clinicians. The Physician's Desktop Reference is noticeably absent from many doctors' bookshelves, replaced by drug reference apps that deliver real-time information in a matter of moments.
For instance, Stat Doctors' Physician App, used by doctors treating patients in Stat Doctors' virtual setting, features next-generation electronic medical records, which allow doctors to spend more time focusing on patients and less time fumbling through complex charting processes. By presenting key contextual patient information to the physician, the Physician App helps to create rather than hinder that historical doctor-patient relationship.
At the end of the day, an increasingly mobile physician workforce will help standardize care protocols, improve communication among clinicians and with patients, and improve physician accessibility to their patients.
3. The Virtual Practice -- As patients become more knowledgeable about their health and physicians increasingly rely on mobile technologies in their practices, medical services that deliver high-quality, convenient, cost-effective care will win the day. In fact, the Affordable Care Act demands it.
Virtual healthcare is gaining popularity among providers and patients alike. The American Telemedicine Association estimates more than 10 million Americans directly benefited from telemedicine over the past year. This number is expected to more than double by 2016. Common uses include online patient consultations, remote radiology study interpretation services and home health monitoring programs.
Perhaps most exciting is the use of high-quality video to virtualize doctor-patient visits for treatment of minor illnesses. When done right, this model delivers high-quality care and convenience to patients at a fraction of the cost of urgent care or ER visits. Perhaps most important, it delivers the appropriate level of care to patients with conjunctivitis, pink eye, respiratory infections and other common medical conditions, allowing emergency rooms to focus on truly emergent patients.
What is the next frontier in mHealth? High-quality, efficient care models like virtual healthcare will spur more innovation and disrupt the current healthcare market. As a result, it's only a matter of time before doctors are treating far more complex conditions in a virtual environment.
Andrew Wagner is chief medical officer of Stat Doctors. To learn more, visit www.statdoctors.com.