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Big Future for Telemedicine?

According to a report just released by McKinsey & Company, we are on the verge of seeing a major shift to health care from home. The report says that as much as $265 billion in annual fees to Medicare and Medicare Advantage could shift to homes by 2025.

We’ve already seen the start of the trend towards telemedicine. The spending on telemedicine was 38 times higher in 2021 compared to 2020. Most of that shift is obviously due to the pandemic. The report suggests that 2025 in-home medical care will increase to three to four times the 2021 level.

The report cites several changes in the healthcare industry that are contributing to the trend for more in-home healthcare:

  • 40% of patients who have used telemedicine say they expect to keep using it in the future. It’s a big burden on working families to try to get to the doctor’s office during the workday, and telemedicine makes it easier for many families to seek health care.
  • There are new technologies that make it easier to deal with remote patients. As an example, 20% of all medical practices in April 2021 were using devices that allow for electronic patient monitoring.
  • There has been a huge investment made in the digital healthcare market. Venture capital to support new digital healthcare companies was $29.1 billion in 2021, up from $14.9 billion in 2020 and $8.2 billion in 2019.
  • There is a rapidly growing industry that brings health care to the home. I probably don’t pay as much attention to this industry as I should, but this is the first time I heard the term Care at Home providers. These are health care professionals that visit patients at home.

The report points out that there are still a lot of changes to be made for the industry to fully adopt the care at home health care model. For example, insurance companies must recognize and reimburse in-home care at the same payment level as for doctors and hospital care.

The report suggests that the biggest change will come from the general public, who will insist on in-home care if that is an option. Very few people want to trudge to a health care facility for repetitive treatments like dialysis, infusions, or simple consultations.

The report predicts that more physician groups will adopt care at home after seeing case studies of the effectiveness of treating patients at home.

Even as long as twenty years ago, I remember seeing predictions that telemedicine would be one of the first ubiquitous outcomes of the spread of broadband. I can remember hearing a lot of predictions of how broadband-enabled technology would enable seniors to live unassisted until later in life. It’s been obvious for that whole time long that this is something that many people want, but it has never materialized in any major way. Physicians and insurance companies have been reluctant to try telemedicine until the pandemic forced the issue.

We’ve come a long way with broadband in twenty years. The latest estimates are that over 87% of homes have a wired broadband connection, and 95% of adults have cell phones. Maybe telemedicine has finally arrived – we aren’t going to have to wait long to test the McKinsey prediction.

3 replies on “Big Future for Telemedicine?”

I’m pretty thrilled that Covid has had this positive side effect. As you allude, telemedicine was a kind of running joke in the networking community for a long time since there had never been the sort of incentive or forcing function to push it forward. But, it seems as though its time has come.

In fact (speaking of running jokes) at a network startup I worked at one of our demos showed tier-1 ISP traffic split up in various ways; the senior scientist who did a lot of our demos had a wry sense of humor so, as he was preparing to bring up the graph he’d talk about the Internet enabling critical new features for users: scientific collaboration… distance learning… tele-medicine …

Then, the graph that would come up of how people were actually using the web at a large university would have the bulk of the traffic dominated by p2p file sharing (edonkey at the time, and you can imagine the use case…)

So, anyway, nice to see that process finally budging.

A close family member just fired her pediatrician for switching to practicing Zoom call exams. The M.D. opined that the chances of “missing anything really important” were “slight.” Doctors need to see patients or (at the very least) consult with a medical practitioner present with the patient while they do so. Otherwise, how does the doctor palpate organs, notice a developing condition (e.g. scoliosis) or notice a telltale smell which might indicate diabetes or colon cancer, notice puncture marks from an insect bite, etc.? In the case of my family member, one of the children had been hospitalized repeatedly for a particular condition. The Mom was not interested in what would be “missed” during a Zoom call only in competent care for her children.

There will be medical malpractice cases against practitioners based on what was “missed” during shoddy Zoom call medical practice.

Good points.

1) But consider someone who might benefit from quarterly interviews with an LVN that has specialized training that previously was seeing a doctor in person on a biennial basis. The chance for cost effective early detection is the upside of this use case.

2) The cost of a USB camera with a decent lens is rock bottom (or you can use your smartphone). What was a gadget for hobbyists that wanted a sort of electronic microscope (I used to shop at Cyberguys) is now a modest addon to a PC or tablet. And it can be used asynchronously to generate stills or video that can be uploaded, emailed or MMS’d to an evaluation center thereby saving time and money.

3) Remember the space race ? The telemetry that was limited to astronauts is now available to anybody that needs it and has the broadband to transport the data. In a similar vein there are diabetics who use smartphones to test their blood sugar and upload the results to a central repository for later review.

Tele-medicine is a huge umbrella with Zoom calls just one of many tools underneath. Yes, carefully crafted protocols need to be in place to minimise the risks. But the chance for improved care in a less critical version of the “Golden Hour” is too good to pass up.

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