Telemedicine Apps Help Solve Supply and Demand in Healthcare

The mid-century ideal of a doctor arriving at the doorstep with a black bag and sitting at ones’ bedside sharing reams of advice is a rosy image many people long for today. Warm, human interaction makes a doctor-patient relationship valuable and comforting. Many believe medical apps now replace the personal doctor-patient relationship with cold mechanized care. However, medical technologies can actually restore elements of humanity and intimacy to health care by freeing providers from repetitive tasks that act as barriers between them and their patients.

Americans will soon be forced to reimagine how the doctor-patient personal relationship can be improved upon for the future of healthcare. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, physician demand continues to grow faster than supply, leading to a projected shortfall of between 42,600 and 121,300 physicians by 2030.

The primary drivers of this disparity are population growth and aging. By 2030, the U.S. population is projected to grow 11%, the population under age 18 is projected to grow by only 3%, while the population aged 65 and over is projected to grow by 50%. Seniors have much higher per capita consumption of health care than younger populations. The combination of a surmounting number of senior citizens competing for the attention of a much smaller population of doctors and the difficulty for seniors to leave their home in the first place makes the doctor-patient in-person relationship increasingly unrealistic. Thus, creating a humanized and intimate healthcare setting today means allowing patients to perform some time-consuming tasks on their own which will give physicians more time to care for the patient’s deeper needs.

This is where medical technologies can fill the gap. Wake up with a sinus infection at 2 A.M.? Install the Doctor On Demand application for a video consultation with a physician scheduled in under two minutes and receive an immediate prescription. Diabetes patients can learn to track and calculate carbs and medication by installing BlueStar Diabetes instead of visiting the doctor’s office. People with disabilities can install HelpTalk which provides a list of phrases and images that can allow people who have trouble vocalizing to communicate some of their needs and feelings. Sons can learn to care for their mothers with Alzheimer’s disease by utilizing Alzheimer App instead of feeling that their only option is to put their parents in nursing homes. Many more apps can be found on websites like My Health Apps.

Blood pressure tracking and analysis tools such as iBP Bloodpressure can help patients monitor the symptoms of uncontrolled hypertension. A study of 326 patients with uncontrolled hypertension showed that home blood pressure tele-monitoring with pharmacist management lowered blood pressure more than usual care in the first 18 months. The results suggested significantly lower blood pressure for up to 24 months.

Unfortunately, many public and private insurers are not willing to pay for these services. Opposition to this technology is two-fold; some medical professionals fear technology while others fear turf invasion. Medicare could save immense amounts of taxpayer dollars by reimbursing patients to use telehealth apps rather than requiring in-person visits. But, each state is taking a different approach to Medicaid and private payer reimbursement for telehealth and telemedicine which reduces patient’s access to quality care. The Center for Connected Health Policy reports that 23 states still limit reimbursement for telehealth to a specific list of facilities. Four states mandate that a provider and patient be separated by a certain distance and discriminate against out-of-state providers.

But, some states have taken steps toward reform. Illinois recently passed Senate Bill 3049 requiring insurers to cover tele-psychiatry and allowing Medicaid beneficiaries to access mental health experts. This opens the doors for those struggling with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse to use apps like myStrength which uses technology to provide self-help resources to manage emotional and mental health. This will result in fewer emergency visits, reduced hospital stays and readmissions, and lower costs to taxpayers. Overall it will help improve lives for those suffering from mental illness.

Digital technologies compliment physician’s efforts. They can relieve physicians of repetitive and cumbersome tasks that distract from the real value they provide—genuine understanding, compassion, and communication. These are the things that cannot be automated. Due to the rapidly expanding population of the U.S., there are not enough doctors to sufficiently meet all of society’s needs. Telemedicine programs are one part of the solution to freeing up doctors and giving them more time to address the needs that only in-person relationships can solve.