A lot can change over 20 years, especially in medicine. Health care experts predict technology will transform the doctor’s visit in four significant ways by 2039.
The delivery of health care services online and via mobile devices is fundamentally changing the patient-physician interaction and enabling health care providers to reach more people in communities with limited access.
“Today, how we ‘visit’ a doctor is transforming,” said Roberta Schwartz, Ph.D., chief innovation officer at Houston Methodist Hospital. “We are moving from a world where you see the physician face-to-face to a world where you can visit a physician through telemedicine, whether you’re at the hospital or home, and you can even have a text visit with a physician.”
More than three-quarters of hospitals in the country currently connect patients with health care experts through video to virtually consult, diagnose and treat conditions in real time, according to the American Hospital Association. Since telemedicine has proven to increase access to care, reduce health care costs and improve outcomes, it is poised to become a standard of care.
More automation with AI
Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), doctor visits will be likely become more automated. Routine paperwork, such as verifying insurance and manually inputting patient information, will be done by machine—reducing redundancies and eliminating paper forms.
“Patients will fill out automated surveys prior to or upon arriving to appointments, be assisted by kiosks or robots to complete, and then find a room,” said Emily Reiser, Ph.D., innovation strategist at TMC Innovation Institute. “All together, the upfront automation and automatic entry of conversation into EHR [electronic health records] will enable higher volumes of patients per provider and more quality time with patients.”
PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that health care organizations could see 15 to 20 percent gains in productivity through the use of AI technologies as early as 2021.
While AI will most likely serve as a “co-pilot” for doctors, some experts believe replacing the role of the physician is not outside the realm of possibility.
“As the AI gets trained and gets the opportunity to show that it is superior to clinicians with outcomes, then there may be human [clinician] pushback on it since it jeopardizes their role,” said Albert Huang, M.D., innovation strategist at the TMC Innovation Institute. “Eventually, AI may reasonably be able to take over radiology and pathology, since those are both image recognition-driven fields. Clinical decision-making systems may be close behind.”
Wearable tech and the quantified self
Smartphones and wearable devices track our every step, calorie intake, heart rate and sleep pattern, generating huge amounts of data. Doctors in the future will likely collect this information from patients to help anticipate, diagnose and treat different conditions. When doctors see patients in person or via telemedicine, all that data will be at the ready.
“We are rapidly moving to a world where your health status can be monitored from home, uploaded and tracked by health professionals using sophisticated software to proactively identify patients at risk of certain health issues,” Schwartz said.
Universal electronic medical records (EMRs)
In the past, medical records were handwritten on charts, but now patient information is digitized and made easily accessible via electronic databases, such as Epic and MyChart, allowing multiple providers to securely access and share patient data.
As a result, EMRs are going to continue to move towards universalization. In the future, when patients enter a hospital or doctor’s office, their entire medical history will be immediately accessible across multiple locations and multiple providers.
“Be it everyone on Epic or via interoperability, as much as hospitals are trying hard to hold onto their patient data as an institutional asset, the pull towards more open transmission of patient data between hospitals is going to eventually open it up, making patient care more efficient and less redundant,” Huang said.
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