Last week I talked about the deceptively simple assignment the Board had given me: figure out the future of telehealth. Of course, it isn't so simple. Prognostication isn't my strong suit. One of the things I've always heard is that to guess the future, one needs to look at the past. Makes sense, I suppose. Looking at the past lets one see the trajectory we're on and guess where that trajectory will take us.
What's in telehealth's past? It depends on which speaker you listen to, but here are some ideas I've heard:
• The first telehealth encounter was probably when a patient called the doctor on that newfangled invention, the telephone
• In the 1920s, a fairly accurate guess was made in a science magazine: Patients could see their doctors over a radio with a video screen (pretty close to today's videoconferencing setups)
• Some say the first real telehealth connection (by today's standards, at least) was a closed-circuit television connection between Boston's Logan Airport and Massachusetts General Hospital
At any rate, we can be fairly confident that the connection between patient and provider will be driven by video. Beyond that, the structure of the telehealth 'network' seems to be changing significantly. We won't need all those expensive, proprietary, technology-driven private networks. We'll see the doctor on our cell phones. It's already starting and it looks like that may be a significant trend.
Of course, one big worry is about the privacy of data and of the connection in general. Privacy. It's a big issue. Will your phone company or cable company take the responsibility of protecting information that's being transferred between you and your doctor? Will the video app providers? I guess I'd say my best guess is that privacy and patient protection will take even more of the center stage in future discussions.
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