Healthcare has always been a steady, reliable career; because unfortunately, everyone will need medical attention at one time or another. By 2026, healthcare spending in relation to the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to hit 19.7 percent (National Health Expenditure). This increase in healthcare spending is a result of several factors, such as age and access to health insurance and care.
The bottom line for healthcare is that we're going to experience more people requiring care and fewer healthcare professionals to provide it. By 2030, there will be 100,000 fewer physicians available to serve a greater aging population and an increased number of newly insured patients according to The American Association of Medical Colleges. The nursing profession has been experiencing an equally alarming shortage as well.
More patients. Fewer physicians and nurses. How will this work?
Technology To The Rescue
Just as the Internet and personal computing allowed colleges and universities to develop a variety of online, accredited healthcare degrees, so is technology developing new methods for physicians to provide non-emergent patient care. It's true that more complex medical issues can't be treated online; but the ability for patients to access healthcare professionals 24/7 using laptops, smartphones and/or video chats is growing in the U.S. The Telemedicine Association estimates over 200 telemedicine companies and networks in the U.S. and over 3,000 service sites.
Why Online Medicine?
Healthcare and technology advances have always gone hand in hand. Robotic surgery, for example, uses sophisticated computer technology to provide a surgeon the ability to remotely utilize more precise and intricate surgical techniques. This type of surgery offers minimally invasive procedures, fewer complications and faster recovery times.
It's not much of a stretch to take that same idea of remote, robotic capabilities and apply it to generalized patient care. An article in Forbes examined recent trends in online healthcare and found that online visits with a healthcare professional holds great appeal for practitioners and patients. Online medical services allow patients more control and participation in their health care, 24/7 access to a medical or mental health practitioner, convenience of a consultation without long wait time for appointments, more one-on-one time with the practitioner; and, in some cases, a flat rate charge for services. Healthcare practitioners have greater control over their schedule, a more manageable patient load, more efficient patient follow-up and less administration hassle.
Online Medical Care recently published an overview of The State of Online Medical Care in 2018 which goes into greater depth on the future for practicing medicine online; but, what medical careers lend themselves to offering online medical care?
It's a win-win proposition.
What Healthcare Specialties Benefit From Online Patient Services?
There are a variety of healthcare professionals who can offer patient services online without jeopardizing patient care. It's obvious that certain complex health issues will always require patients to visit a clinical practice, but the areas of healthcare that are well suited to virtual treatment are considerable. Online services can, and are, being provided by physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners (this group includes NPs with specialty training in Family Practice, Primary Pediatrics, Mental Health Nurse Practitioners).
Primary Care Professionals
Primary Care Physicians, Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners can greatly benefit from practicing online, whether full-time or part-time. With an estimated 38% of doctor and healthcare office visits deemed unnecessary that lend themselves well to an online visit. Common colds, flu, allergies, respiratory infections, rashes, prescription refills, and other non-emergent care can be treated online remotely using smartphones, PCs and tablets, etc.
There is a high demand for board certified dermatologists in the U.S. It's reported that dermatologists represent only 8,000-8,500 physicians of the approximate 700,000 practicing physicians. An online dermatology practice allows dermatology specialists to provide patient services to a wider demographic without access to a dermatologist. With skin cancer being the most common cancer in the U.S. early detection is key. Online dermatology services currently exit and offer patients nearly immediate diagnostic answers to skin questions. Simple dermatological examinations of rashes, severe acne, psoriasis, moles can be done utilizing video chat or Skype technology. Complicated cases may be referred to a specialist (general surgeon) as necessary.
Psychiatry, Psychology and Clinical Social Work
If any specialty lends itself completely to an online practice, it's in behavioral medicine. The practice even has a unique title, "Telepsychology." Recently, television commercials have aired with Olympic Gold Medal Winner Michael Phelps promoting the use of an online therapy service. Is it effective? The answer appears to be that online therapy, using Skype or webcams text or email, isn't that much different from in-office sessions. Psychology Today provides links to online therapists and psychiatrists by state; and the American Psychological Association has published guidelines for establishing an online practice.
Teleradiology has been practiced remotely since the 1960s' Rural Papago Advanced Health Care project which offered telemedicine consultation services utilizing NASA technology. In the 21st century, the Internet has now delivered real-time teleradiology interpretive services. Teleradiology is a boon to remote hospitals, emergency departments, physicians, outpatient centers, and even patients seeking direct radiology consultation. The American College of Radiology has addressed teleradiology in a white paper which outlines the successes and pitfalls of a teleradiology practice.
There's a place for pediatric medicine in the growing online doctor world. Providing 24/7 diagnostic consultations for sick children helps reduce ER visits, lower cost, lessen disruption for a sick child, and diagnose and refer more serious illnesses. American Academy of Pediatrics published a white paper on the application of telemedicine in pediatric care.
Online medicine is going to continue to expand as technology improves and medical associations embrace it. Physicians and medical professionals wanting to establish an online practice can opt to join an existing online medical network and service; or, establish their own practice. Care must be taken to assure that all licensing, certification and state requirements are met before hanging out your shingle for business.
The growth of Internet based medicine is, no question, the next healthcare model aimed at providing quality patient care in a timely and efficient manner. It's an exciting time in healthcare!