Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Jetson's Age, Are We There Yet?

Not Really But Just Imagine

You have been healthy your whole life and one day you're not. I'm not referring to an illness like the common cold or a headache but the type of illness that gets your attention. It is still a relatively minor illness but you realize you need some advice on how to treat it. Let's say it's heartburn that isn't responding to the usual over the counter treatments. Maybe it's some pesky little burning with urination that developed after that "wild weekend". What do you do? Well if your like most people you will plan on seeing a "Provider". If your uninsured, like 43 million Americans, then the cost will be out of pocket. If you're insured then you will most likely need to find a Doctor in your health insurance network. Either way you will need to find someone who will act as your gatekeeper to our Healthcare System.

Traditional Gatekeeper Approach

The following is how it works in most parts of the country right now. It starts with a phone call. If you are fortunate and were given a recommendation the first step has already been accomplished. You have the name of a Provider. If not then it is the luck of the draw, usually done out of a phonebook. You call their office to make an appointment. Sometimes they can get you in quickly but very often they can't. It may be days or even weeks before you are seen. You take off time from work, or for some, you must arrange childcare. You arrive on time but now must fill out what seems like a ream of paperwork before being seen. It doesn't matter because the Doctor is running late. (The Doctor's first appointment of the day which was scheduled for 15 minutes ended up taking an hour.) So now you wait in the waiting room with a bunch of sick people filling out forms and reading old magazines, all the while thinking, "this sucks." You finally meet with the Doctor and tell your story. There is a brief physical exam and you're handed a prescription. The whole encounter was less than 10 minutes. The Doctor was courteous and professional but obviously in a hurry. You are reminded to make a follow-up appointment on the way out and as you drive off to get your prescription filled you can't help but think, "there has got to be a better way".

Alternative Gatekeeper Approach

Fast forward to the Jetson's Age and start this process all over again. Forget the phone call. Don't worry about insurance. You won't need to take any time off for work. You now have 24/7/365 access to medical advice. You retreat, at your convenience, to your personal Virtual Reality Room. It used to be your home office but you have upgraded it. You engage the Interface and request to open an access to a health information counselor. Immediately you see a 3-D image of an "Old Country Doc" that you selected from a menu of counselors. He's "Old Doc Smith" and he knows your entire medical history. He has access to it through the National Health Information Network. He "knew" it was you because of the biometrics that were installed along with the other technology in your Virtual Reality Room. He begins to take your history and the medical decision making software program notes through the history you provide that this is a low complexity problem. There is a low probability that a physical exam will be necessary for "Old Doc Smith" to make a diagnosis and initiate treatment. He tells you there is no need to be seen by a traditional Provider at this time. Based on your detailed history the medical decision making software generates a treatment plan that meets the most up-to-date standard of care. He recommends that you should consider talking with a Nutritionist as some dietary changes may have a more lasting effect on your heartburn. You decline for now. He explains he will prescribe a medication and spends the time instructing you on its use, intended effects and any side effects. He tells you he has already forwarded your prescription to the pharmacy and you exit the program. No hassles. No inconveniences. No delays. No waiting room. The whole encounter is recorded in your health record and took less than 10 minutes from start to finish.

Why Wait For The Future To Think About The Future?

Sounds wild doesn't it? I think there will be a palette of options that comes with virtual reality interactivity. It won't just be a Health Information Counselor. There will be virtual therapists, nutritionists. trainers, psychologists, news reporters and just about any other virtual environment you desire. It will be the military and the "entertainment industry" that capitalizes on this technological leap in the beginning, but once it goes mainstream the whole frontier will be wide open. Healthcare will not be the last to get on board. I think these types of services will be delivered into our homes just like cable TV. We will sign up for certain packages. The more extravagant and complicated the virtual environment the more it will cost. The market will ultimately determine cost. Those that can not afford a personal virtual reality room will have a local virtual reality center they can go to get online. These systems will need to be efficacious and low cost to compete but I think they will have a market in Healthcare as well. We're not there yet but we can imagine. If you're thinking, "It'll never work", check out this link.

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