For Dr. Eric Topol, imagining a radically different health care system is easy if you try. The author of The Patient Will See You Now, a new book on health care innovation, Topol recently penned a column in the WSJ. We’ve discussed Topol before, who became an advocate for medical apps and technologies after he was able to do a smartphone cardiogram successfully on an airplane. In this latest column, Topol takes a in-depth look at some the ways mobile technology is already changing health care:
Now, at any time of day or night, you can demand and get a secure video consultation with a doctor via smartphone at the same cost (about $30-$40) as the typical copay charge through employer health plans. This may seem exotic now, but several large consulting firms—including Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers—have forecast that virtual physician visits (replacing physical office visits) will soon become the norm. Deloitte says that as many as one in six doctor visits were already virtual in 2014. In many U.S. cities, you can even use a mobile app to request a doctor’s house call during which a physician would not only provide a consultation but could even perform procedures, such as suturing a wound, which would have usually required an expensive emergency room visit.
There’s much more; read the whole thing (NPR’s interview with Topol is also worth reading). This is a tantalizing picture of the future. Even if not every individual prediction he, or others like him, makes comes true, we agree with Topol that innovation is going to push us towards changes of this kind. When we talk about focusing on how we deliver health care services better, cheaper, and faster, this is what we mean. This field is where the most important action for the future of U.S. health care is, because unless we dramatically improve the cost and efficiency of our system our current strategy of solving our problems by cost-shifting will yield only ever-diminishing returns.How quickly, and how completely, we get to a system like the one that Topol describes depends on a lot of factors, including the choices of policymakers. But it’s clear consumers want it, and that pressure, at least, is promising.