I’ve been hearing a lot recently about the rising use of tablets in healthcare. You’ve probably heard of this concept too – instead of driving to your doctor’s office, you set up a Skype call where you can describe your symptoms and show your provider that itchy rash or swollen tonsils. In many cases, a provider can make a diagnosis over video chat and can call in a prescription without far less administrative costs than an in-office visit.
I already loved that idea — I’ve got a serious aversion to doctors’ offices, not because of the doctors (or more often, nurse practitioners), but because of the time spent hanging out in the waiting room. If I could do the waiting in my living room, I’d be a lot more likely to get medical attention from time to time.
Then I heard a story on NPR that takes it one step further. The city of Houston is undertaking a pilot program that uses video chat to hook up doctors with people who call 9-1-1. Ambulance crews carry tablets and if a caller’s medical issue doesn’t seem to require the emergency room, they call in a doctor via video chat, just to be sure. The doctor can talk to the patient and make a preliminary diagnosis remotely.
Houston isn’t the only place trying out video chats through ambulance crews. But here’s where Houston goes everyone else one better: the doctor sets the caller up with a clinic appointment the next morning. And sends a taxi over to pick them up and return them home — for free.
Houston’s pilot program costs more than $1 million a year to run and it’s being paid for with city money plus grants, including one from the Medicaid program.
But the city spends far more than that each year in ER visits that could have been handled by a primary care physician. Officials estimate using video chat plus free taxis and clinic visits will save more than $2 million a year.
We all know the rising cost of healthcare is nearing crisis level. Houston’s got it right – new technology plus outside-the-box thinking is exactly what we need to start knocking it back.
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