Telemedicine is Not so Different from 'Stethimedicine'

Telemedicine, remote sensing and other digital health technologies are becoming just another tool in the black bag. The technology will no doubt bring change, but many fears are overblown.

Telemedicine is the use of information and communications technologies to care for patients. It has been around since the 50's, but, because of many factors, it finally is beginning to get more widespread adoption and penetration by doctors and their patients. There are still many legal, regulatory, reimbursement, business model, and human factor issues that need to be overcome, but we are seeing progress...if you call it that.

Some are convinced that telemedicine is an inevitable and welcomed technology. Others are not convinced and argue that machines in medicine will create significant societal and economic crises such as wage stagnation, income inequality, eroding purchasing power and erosion of the doctor patient relationship.

The argument seems to hinge on whether you think machines and artificial intelligence (AI) will help sick-care and health workers do their jobs or replace people doing those jobs. In the case of telemedicine, I'd argue it will do both. In fact, the term "telemedicine" will be archaic in the not-too-distant future and become just another way to distribute care to patients, similar to outpatient care and inpatient care. It would be like calling what we do now stethimedicine because we use a stethoscope (yes, some doctors actually still us that thing around their necks) to render care.

Telemedicine, remote sensing and other digital health technologies are becoming just another tool in the black bag. Some jobs will be eliminated, e.g. those who are interposed between the provider team and the patient team that do clerical jobs that can be better done with automated systems. On the other hand, many parts of care like decision support, care coordination and communications, will be improved.

Finally, while the doctor-patient relationship is becoming a myth, some patients will actually want to still see their doctors face to face. After all, a lot customers still go to independent book stores to browse and buy.