Telemedicine to Uber?

A column about telemedicine by Mike Freeman in the Los Angeles Times of 19 March 2016 is headlined “Doctor visits could be like Uber”. The introduction reads:

Though it may sound farfetched, seeing a doctor could move in that direction if telemedicine gains acceptance.

How time flies. On my desk is a report By Ben Park titled: Introduction to Telemedicine: Interactive Television for Delivery of Health Services. The report, from the Alternate Media Center at the School of the Arts, New York University, is dated June 1974. This report appeared just before my research team’s December 1974 report on the Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff. The gist of both reports was that information technology can substitute for many travel purposes, when configured properly. The technology of 2016 is far more powerful than that of 1974. Both telework and telemedicine are happening in ever greater variety today.

The comparison with Uber is apt. What’s wanted these days is instant (well, pretty quick) access to the desired resources. Ahora! In the case of telemedicine it’s access to medical services ASAP! Just like calling Uber. Freeman writes:

We averaged a wait time over the last three years of three minutes to see a doctor, [Dr. Peter] Antall said.

That’s almost as good as averaging three minutes to get to work, something routine for millions of teleworkers, wherever they are. The main retardant for telemedicine is the “web of reimbursement rules and hodgepodge regulations” that telephysicians face. The main retardant for teleworkers is the similar web of organizational rules and operating practices. To paraphrase a Clinton (Mark I) motto: It’s the culture, stupid.

Of course, one other retardant for telemedicine is the fact that some physical ailments do require the colocation of physician and patient. That will not go away soon. Similarly, some work situations do require the physical presence of a teleworker in an office for face-to-face interaction of some sort. But the point of the Uber simile is that many medical situations, like many work situations, are independent of the location of the participating parties. And that’s the stress-reducing difference.

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