As a healthy woman of the millennial generation, Becca Wiseman doesn’t spend much time in doctor’s offices. When she does, the prospect of seeing a primary caregiver virtually rather than in a brick-and-mortar office has its advantages.
“That would make it much easier to fit into my life, than having to take off work for a longer period of time,” says Wiseman, a manager at a chiropractic office in Pennsylvania. “Especially considering the driving, the waiting and the actual appointment.”
Wiseman’s thinking is consistent with a growing trend in the way we see healthcare. A recent study by GlobalWebIndex, a market research SaaS company, details the public’s expanding desire for a virtual platform for healthcare.
The study reveals that 70% of internet users in the U.S. and U.K. see technology playing a key role in the future of healthcare. And that comes in an array of forms, from virtual doctor’s visits to online prescription fulfillment to apps that track health and wellness.
Stacy Tench is a police dispatcher in Ohio. Given her busy schedule, she’s open to saving time with an online checkup. “Absolutely!” she says. “If I can get checked out while wearing my pajamas? Game on.”
Stacy’s is a light-hearted take on the virtual shift, but a valid one. In an age in which we can order anything from groceries to household products through an app, same day healthcare in a virtual world feels like a natural fit.
Taking a virtual path
The days of spending time in a doctor’s office waiting room might just be numbered. With telehealth, artificial intelligence and other technology, healthcare finds itself on a virtual path not unlike those we’ve turned to for dating, fitness tracking and many other aspects of modern life.
Healthcare demand in itself is on the rise. The World Health Organization says global healthcare spending reached $7.5 trillion in 2016. That’s 10% of Gross Domestic Product, a measure of market value of all final goods and services produced.
People turning to the web for health answers is nothing new.
GlobalWebIndex studies show 36% of people globally have researched health issues and products online. In the 55-64 age group, that figure rises to 42% for a population even more concerned about its health.
“I’ve self diagnosed myself with a couple of things,” Tench, the dispatcher, says. “As a matter of fact, I have researched two things and actually told my doctors what I thought they were and that’s when they diagnosed me.”
Demand for digital health technology is strong, according to the GWI study. Of those polled in the U.S. and U.K., convenience and accessibility fueled that appetite. Of note:
51% would like to find doctors and schedule appointments online
50% would like to access their health information online
50% would like the ability to consult with a physician by phone or video call
Completing paperwork, filling prescriptions and communicating by text or social media with a doctor were also of high interest.
AI: Is it OK?
Convenient appointments such as fitness apps and online scheduling are one thing; but do consumers have the same open-arms sentiment for artificial intelligence in healthcare?
That same GWI research revealed that consumers are optimistic – about certain parts.
52% feel the top benefit of AI being able to detect patterns a human doctor might miss
47% feel the top benefit is the ability to automate routine tasks for staff
46% feel the top benefit is to reduce the rate of human errors
Those polled also showed confidence in AI for its ability to perform tasks with greater precision and ability to predict future health events based on data. But how far would that trust extend?
Emily Bunnell is a designer from Nibley, Utah. She’s supplemented healthcare with common telehealth options, such as referring to WebMD or Google for health concerns. She has not had a virtual doctor’s visit, but would, under certain circumstances.
“If I’m trying to find out if a rash on my neck is cause for concern or even a cough, probably,” says Emily. “For serious medical concerns or procedures, the dialogue shared with a doctor gives me a more nuanced and conversational understanding that I’d feel more confident in.”
A reduction in face-to-face interactions with physicians ranked in the top five concerns for those in the GWI research. Also of note: The cost of building and maintaining machines for AI.
50% had privacy and security concerns
48% felt doctors would become too reliant on AI
47% had concerns regarding AI accuracy
“Machines can have all the information and more than a doctor,” Bunnell says. “To assess the history and even body language of a patient are some of the finer arts of diagnosis, I don’t think a machine can replicate.”
No current model has AI working alone in healthcare. An appropriate application in the field could help free doctors’ time from administrative work to allow capacity for surgery and other specialized tasks. The human component is critical.
At its best, AI would complement human work, and perhaps lead medicine to places humans couldn’t get there alone.
“‘I just know building trust and understanding how to communicate are part of the process,” Bunnell says. “And that’s a very human trait.”