You woke up feeling sick today. Your throat is scratchy, your head is imploding, and you just don’t think you can even leave your bed. You might have the flu. What do you do?
If you live in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, you stagger over to your computer and log in to your doctor’s office website at Hello Health to schedule an online Instant Messaging visit. Very soon, during that IM chat, your regular doctor asks some questions and confirms that it’s a virus. She tells you there’s nothing to worry about just yet, to drink plenty of fluids, and take Tylenol™ for the fever. Oh, and she’ll contact you tomorrow.
Feeling better now? In the olden days before the Hello Health concept, the traditional time spent dragging your sorry flu-addled self out of bed and all the way downtown to your doctor’s office, including two aching and feverish hours spent shivering in the waiting room infecting other patients, would have been about four hours of your life that you’d never get back.
But time spent with your Hello Health doctor’s visit? Less than one hour, without even brushing your teeth, changing out of your sweaty jammies, or leaving home.
Indeed, across our health care system, from large hospital networks to patient support groups, new media tools like blogs, IM platforms, video chat, and social networks like Twitter and Facebook are re-engineering the way doctors and patients interact.
If you want a glimpse of what your health care could look like a few years from now, a doctor’s office like Hello Health might well be it, according to Health Affairs in the article, “Take Two Aspirins and Tweet Me In The Morning”.
Hello Health is a paperless ‘concierge’ medical practice already in place in a number of U.S. cities. It’s popular and successful, largely because of the powerful and cost-effective communication tools it employs: web-based social media. It’s a direct-pay, for-profit medical practice format, although insured patients can be reimbursed by their plans, or people can subscribe to a $30 monthly membership program that covers both in-person and online visits, whichever is most appropriate for each situation.
Here in Canada, my province of British Columbia offers free access to programs like TeleHealth and eHealth which boast similar efficiencies, particularly for patients living in rural areas far from the nearest medical specialist. Let’s imagine, for example, that you live in the small island community of Port Hardy and need to consult with a cancer specialist here in Victoria, an 8-hour drive away from home. Instead of that long drive, you book a Telehealth session at your local hospital; the specialist in Victoria then provides you with treatment options, care plans, counselling, and follow-up during your live, two-way teleconferencing consultation via the TV screen.
Our province’s eHealth projects can bring lab results, diagnostic scans, medication histories, and electronic prescriptions online to help patients anywhere that health care is delivered in British Columbia.
No technology, of course, could ever completely replace traditional hands-on care for specific health issues. You can’t get an injection, a root canal or a surgical procedure done online. But as an add-on to traditional doctor-patient relationships, web-based social media could look as simple as a family physician asking asthmatic patients during virtual visits to breathe into their peak flow meters and then IM him the results. According to the Hello Health website:
“Virtual visits save time and money by allowing physicians to see patients over the Internet. A basic camera (many personal computers have them built in) is the only equipment required. Virtual visits are also ideal for non-examination types of visits — for example, follow-up conversations regarding diagnoses, treatment protocols and prescriptions.”
So next time you sit waiting in your doctor’s office an hour past your scheduled appointment time for a minor medical issue, or miss his phone call with your lab results, or can’t even get through the receptionist to talk to him, think about one day being able to send him a Tweet like:
“I am leaving U. Going 2 HelloHealth.”
Read the full Health Affairs article here (subscription required).