The future of our healthcare
The global coronavirus pandemic has accentuated major failures in our healthcare system. The number of patients needing treatment for the virus itself is off the charts, while shortages in supplies and professionals raise fears that not everyone that needs treatment will get it. Simultaneously, social distancing and quarantine measures have forced many doctors to cancel routine and non-emergency appointments.
No one can say how long the virus will last and how it will ultimately impact on our lives and economy, but one thing is for certain—our healthcare system is not working, and we need to fix it.
While the country is divided on whether or not the government should provide healthcare for all, technology solutions that could lessen the strain of this pandemic, such as telemedicine, already exist, but there’s no real push to implement them widely. We know how to develop a secure communications system that will allow doctors to connect with patients from any location. We have the technologies to conduct remote diagnostics. Hospitals and doctor’s offices are increasingly using cloud platforms that allow them to store patient records, send bills, and provide communications between the patient and their doctor. Health trackers, such as the FitBit and Apple Watch, are already mainstream.
So, what exactly is holding us back? The real problem is a lack of participation by all stakeholders – including the insurance industry, hospitals, and clinics. They are comfortable with their existing business models and are reluctant to change their practices and allow access to much-needed technology solutions. In addition, current government regulations are not pro-market.
I recently had a good conversation with George Karapetian M.D., Facility Medical Director of MemorialCare Medical Group in San Juan Capistrano, about the future of telemedicine. Dr. Karapetian has over 30 years’ experience practicing medicine and treating patients in California. He said, you almost need a crisis for people to accept new ways to engage or do business. This is very true in the healthcare industry.
Dr. Karapetian said that the coronavirus pandemic changed everything overnight – suddenly, his practice had no choice but to implement and promote telemedicine. They worked with the Zoom network and set up a videoconferencing platform for their patients. Now, when patients call, Dr. Karapetian and his colleagues offer them the option of either meeting in person or having a video call. He said the video service has been very successful. Since implementation, they have seen over 1,000 patients per week on videoconference. While it’s not perfect, it offers patients an alternative to coming into the office during a pandemic.
While Dr. Karapetian is testing telemedicine out of need, he sees some obstacles to it becoming mainstream, including patient acceptance, physician cooperation, and legal and liability issues. Also, until recently, major insurance companies wouldn’t pay for telemedicine which, outside of technology availability, has been the biggest hindrance to mass acceptance.
I believe as the dust settles from the coronavirus, these obstacles will start to disappear. The doctors and nurses who risked their lives on the front lines will demand new ways to treat patients. Similarly, if social distancing becomes a new norm, the general public will also insist on new technologies that don’t force them to go to hospitals and doctor’s offices for routine care or prescription refills.
Over the next six to 12 months, we could see major technology companies like Google and Amazon, as well as major service providers like Verizon and AT&T, partnering with startups to deliver highly secure national healthcare communication services. I think the services will be spread across multiple networks: some will be used for general public access anywhere through mobile apps or web-based services, while others will be private networks designed for highly secure communications between doctors, clinics, hospitals and other service providers.
We essentially have most of the key technologies to offer Telemedicine network nationwide, from major NFL cities to small towns in Middle America. The key components are:
- The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), on which the patient’s vital signs can be monitored and stored, allowing doctors to access the health statistics of a patient over time.
- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning technologies that will allow doctors to analyze the aforementioned data, compare it with other cases in the network and then form an opinion.
- Big Data Science which will provide access to the patient’s historical records on demand. This technology already exists and complies with regulations.
- The 5G network, though not necessary right now, will be an essential part of the future healthcare networks as it will provide significantly more bandwidth and, as a result, better communications quality.
- MRG (Mixed Reality Glasses) which will allow the doctor to see a patient remotely but experience the appointment as near real-life.
- In the future, Implantable that will be inserted under the skin and will monitor a patient’s vital signs. With this technology, the patient’s temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, blood oxygen, and glucose can be measured on a minute-by-minute basis. This type of information is critically important as doctors can better assess the patient’s health. Several technology companies are already focused on the development of this technology.
The future of our healthcare system isn’t just about cool technologies—it’s about making good healthcare accessible and affordable to people of all walks of life. The coronavirus may be damaging the economy and costing thousands of lives, but this doesn’t need to be in vain. As entrepreneurs and technologists, we now have a huge opportunity to upend the entire healthcare system with higher quality and lower-cost services that increase productivity and are easily accessible to everyone. We should take the lessons of the failures of our healthcare system and create change.