For anyone who has sat on hold for eternity to make a doctor’s appointment, sat in a waiting room for hours, and then sat in an exam room only to wait some more, well, sit yourself down and listen to this: It might be hard to imagine, but a new world of on-demand healthcare might be at hand.
Innovations such as emergency rooms purchasing billboards just to brag about short waiting times, or remembering to phone the nearest insta-care to save your place in line before you arrive, are clear evidence that on-demand healthcare is not the future—it is the now.
Sort of, anyway. Whether it’s in the form of common urgent care clinics (old school, I know), video appointments and digital diagnostics (still fairly rare), one-click access to vital health information, or other aspects of the patient experience, healthcare is starting to find its way in the “I want it five minutes ago” culture we live in.
As a result, healthcare is making a shift in dynamics, and changes are taking place to create a better experience with each medical encounter. Changes that make your doctor more accessible, self-management a more real possibility, and access to on-site care easier.
Let’s first look at a few organizations starting to get things right when it comes to on-demand healthcare.
To be clear, when I say on-demand healthcare, I’m talking about services, tools, and technologies that remove barriers. These make it easier—and faster—to get the healthcare and information you want as a patient and consumer.
On-demand Digital Access
When it comes to access to care, telemedicine remains the industry concept that carries the most hope.
Telemedicine has been around for decades, since the first X-ray was sent electronically. But, until recently, telemedicine departments were underfunded and understaffed. They didn’t have the technology to keep up with physician and patient needs. That’s no longer the case. Health systems and tech companies are investing heavily here, because telemedicine improves timely access for patients (and saves hospitals money).
One of the most visible and successful platforms to date is SnapMD. In the early days, many healthcare systems would piece together telemedicine systems, which resulted in inconsistent experiences and frustration when technology didn’t work. Additionally, we weren’t quite used to digital interaction.
Also, telemedicine usually meant going to a doctor’s office, only to video conference with a specialist at another location. That’s all fine and dandy, but it’s not nearly the same as being able to connect to your doctor without leaving home.
With SnapMD or the other such programs, virtual visits are now turnkey for any health system—small or large—that opts to use them. They’re HIPAA-compliant, imaging is fantastic, and patients are increasingly more comfortable talking to a camera from home or a remote clinic—it’s just like FaceTiming grandma.
Nothing is without its flaws, of course; telemedicine, despite the optimism and investment, remains underutilized. But programs such as SnapMD are great, because, as a patient, I can have a virtual visit on my phone. I say “ahh.” Doc gets a look at my throat. And I’m off to pick up a prescription. No waiting room with the walking dead—just an on-demand diagnosis from my couch.
Sick at Work, Stay at Work
Then there’s the analog way. At-work healthcare clinics have increased in popularity over the years, as businesses have searched desperately to reduce healthcare costs for their organizations and employees. Some businesses have seen cost reduction and others haven’t, but each change made it easier to get to a doctor. It’s a lot easier to walk down the hall than to drive across town.
Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan are the tip of the spear when it comes to businesses managing their own healthcare, and, with their alliance, two things are almost certain: It will disrupt the current model to some degree and it most certainly will be on-demand. If I can get a case of limited-edition flavored Pringles on Prime in less than 24 hours (I know a guy who did this), then it will be fascinating to see how this Amazon-fueled dream-team expedites access to care.
Most likely, the alliance will ultimately have its own doctors, nurses, clinics, hospitals and some of the greatest logistics technology available. What’s coming is largely unknown. but if this group of organizations can fix what’s broken—first for their own employees—then the model will be “in demand,” not only on demand.
On-demand On Your Wrist
I know, I know, Apple gets enough attention. But, in this instance, I can’t help myself, and it’s all because of the newest Apple Watch.
In case you missed it, the Apple Watch 4 now has FDA clearance—a first for this type of device. While a number of caveats exist (Read this for more details), the watch, according to the federal government, can accurately detect irregular heartbeats for people over 22 years old.
That’s on-demand information that can save your life, and it’s only the beginning. Apple has launched a study with Stanford Medicine to learn more about how the device detects irregular heart rhythms, including atrial fibrillation, which is a leading cause of stroke. Already, more than 400,000 people have enrolled.
Imagine getting notified by your watch that you need emergency care – long before you feel any symptoms?
Who knows what other diagnostics the watch might ultimately be able to provide in real time. A wearable watch band that measures blood pressure? Temperature? Dehydration? Breathing patterns?
What if you could automatically send that data to your doctor, who could take action in real time? That’s on-demand before you even know you have a demand.
It’s one thing to discreetly order bulk hemorrhoid cream from Amazon Prime; it’s another to show your doctor a worrisome mole on your butt cheek via an iPhone camera (better sign up for yoga now).
The main point to remember, though, is that quality and privacy will not be compromised for convenience. These changes will certainly be different from how we’re used to doing things. However, by staying abreast and informed, we as patients will gain a better understanding of how we can take control of our own health and management. And if you ask me, that’s something that’s been worth the wait.
Jake Miller has written about healthcare for more than a decade, first as a newspaper reporter and then for a major healthcare system in the Midwest. Currently, he specializes in healthcare communication for Lindsay, Stone & Briggs in Madison, Wisconsin.