As the baby-boomer generation ages and the population maintains a longer life expectancy, the traditional healthcare market is shifting to accommodate an increasingly mobile and informed population. Patients are viewed more as consumers now, actively engaged in the decision-making for their health. But there are a few problems.
While companies like Uber and Postmates have surged with the tide of on-demand services, healthcare is still mired in hours-long wait times to deliver short face-to-face consultations with a healthcare professional.
Providing faster service at the point of care is proving a welcome challenge for many technology companies entering the healthcare market. Zoom+Care, a Portland, Oregon-based chain of urgent care clinics is providing an attractive option to millennials who are loath to waiting it out in the ER.
Founder of Zoom+Care Dave Sanders' same-day clinics offer options to chat with doctors on the website, no wait times, and upfront pricing on services without the sticker shock of getting hit with a medical bill in the mail weeks later. Companies like Zoom+Care are a foray into newly emerging trends in telehealth.
The goals of telehealth nicely converge with the aims of tech-powered healthcare providers to engage individuals proactively throughout the course of their care. Telehealth covers a variety of interactive behaviors between patient and physician, including the use of an app for people with diabetes to track food logs, online accountability groups, or remote blood pressure/vital sign monitoring by a physician.
Wearables open a particularly fascinating door to remote monitoring capabilities, as physicians seek to create this kind of digital accessibility to their patients. It also goes far to assist people living in far-flung rural areas or those who have financial barriers to making it into a doctor's office for regular appointments.
Harvard Medical School conducted a study on just how much driving to and from appointments and hanging out in the waiting room costs the average person. As summarized by the Boston Globe:
"The study estimates that the typical doctor visit consumes 121 minutes of the patient's time—37 minutes in travel, 64 minutes waiting for care or filling out forms, and only 20 minutes face to face with the physician."
On average, this costs patients a total of $43—not including the costs of copays or other out-of-pocket expenses the patient incurs. This is why telehealth options are becoming an attractive option for those whose conditions don't require an actual consultation with a physician.
Companies like Zoom+Care and others have us convinced that more positive, consumer-friendly healthcare experiences are not far off. And for this reason, patients are less willing to endure lag time, especially when attributed to inefficient processes in the exam room or back office.
While hospitals have competing priorities, the digital enablement of clunky legacy processes and technology cannot wait. Hospital back offices buried in manual tasks like issuing patient reimbursements via paper check and are wasting valuable time wading through paper stacks when sensible digital payment options exist that are economical and require little IT investment.
These aren't only inefficiencies but lost data opportunities that can help hospitals and clinics streamline, save time, and maximize existing headcount of staff. While it sounds like a systemic issue to overcome, improvements for traditional healthcare providers start small, with specialized tech solutions that begin to replace the parts of a system that ails from lack of data visibility, and paper-bound methods that choke efficiency.
How well hospitals and clinics provide care will be indicative of how quickly they are willing to move to reach patients with transportation or financial barriers. The crosswinds of technology and healthcare will create this life-altering shift in the lives of patients as soon as hospitals are willing to take it on.