In 2019, I would be among the first people to say there are certain things that you can do virtually. Sure, I'd order a pizza, tour an apartment, build my Chipotle bowl or schedule a doctor's appointment. But to actually grocery shop and attend a doctor's appointment via an app? Nah, sis. I wanted to put my own hands on my packaged meats and fresh produce and I needed my physician to put his physical hands on me!
I don't need to convince you how things have changed tremendously in such a short period of time.
In 2020, I found myself typing things such as "I like my bananas more greenish than yellow" and "If the blueberry yogurt is sold out, I'll take black cherry".
I eat my prior words as if they were my Instacart purchases.
In 2021, I'm no longer taken aback by the thought of a virtual doctor's appointment. 'Rona has severely disrupted our norm and accelerated future trends. We're temporarily discouraged from elective surgical procedures and practically banned from entering a doctor's office unless we have symptoms of the virus, which I totally get. And if we're lucky enough to get an appointment, we're asked to remain in our cars until staff calls or texts us with permission to enter.
But for many of us, if we need to schedule appointments for something routine or minor as in a non-emergency, we may be forced to embrace technology to connect with our doctors.
Granted virtual healthcare – visits via telephone, video or instant and text message – has been around for decades. It was already widely used in rural areas where there's minimal access to healthcare facilities. But we've also used a form of virtual healthcare ourselves if we've ever called the 800-number on the back of our insurance cards in the middle of the night and relayed our symptoms to a nurse to determine if we needed to rush to the emergency room or not. Now even more doctors will be using virtual healthcare to see existing patients and provide some specialty care. But guess what? It's something that most of us actually want anyway because we're all for convenience.
According to an article in Hello Health, telehealth services here in the U.S. went from 11% in 2019 to over 46% in April 2020 after 'rona numbers spiked and stay-at-home orders were enforced. Put another way, doctors are seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients through telehealth than they did pre-coronavirus. That's a huge jump!
Additionally, though, roughly 60% of households are interested in virtual follow-up care, routine checkups, ongoing treatment of chronic illnesses and non-threatening conditions. And remember I just mentioned that 'rona accelerated things? Well, according to a survey cited in Modern Healthcare, only about 25% of all outpatient care, preventive care, long-term care and well-being services was expected to be provided virtually by the year 2040. We're actually two whole decades ahead of schedule!
How Do Virtual Doctor Visits Work
Now I'm sure you're wondering how this really works. Even regular doctor's appointments generally involve in-person procedures like bloodwork and blood pressure checks. Or in instances of skin conditions, you'd think an up-close inspection is warranted. But once you schedule your appointment, you'd communicate your needs or concerns with your doctor or specialist via video, phone or app just as discreetly and honestly as you would during your usual visit.
As usual, if you require a prescription, the doctor will write one and send it to the pharmacy of your choice and if you need blood drawn or something of that nature, you'll be directed to a walk-in facility like LabCorp. For dermatological needs, though, a diagnosis can be made off of an uploaded photo of the affected area of your skin.
You can log in and check your results after a few days. Your doctor can also walk you through your results and a treatment plan and schedule any follow-up appointments. Also, conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea can already be recorded yourself – I have a blood pressure wrist band that I purchased from CVS – or monitored remotely through physician-issued equipment, if necessary.
If you're still concerned about overall care, like is-my-doctor-thoroughly-checking-me-out kind of care, the Modern Health survey found that 50% of physicians saw improved quality of care. And if you're worried about cost, virtual healthcare is still technically care and it's generally covered by your insurance plan. Also, 66% of healthcare plans think virtual health has improved overall member satisfaction.
Like any of our other activities that are accessed and conducted through an app, virtual healthcare is essentially seamless and undoubtedly convenient. There's no drive to the facility, a wait in the cold waiting room, an undress into a flimsy gown and finally a drive back home. The Modern Health survey results reflect that patients save two hours per visit.
Two hours that I can spend browsing the virtual aisles of Kroger and Publix.
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