The Chicago Blackhawks did not televise home games until 2007. Their ownership famously felt that broadcasting home games would decrease attendance. In our current watch-anything-anytime-anywhere culture, that’s astounding. It‘s a cautionary tale of a company rejecting new technology to the detriment of its brand and, more importantly, doing a disservice to its community.
Health care has an uneasy history with technology. But the COVID-19 pandemic has hastened adoption of a new form of patient engagement — video or telephone conferencing, also known as telehealth. In an industry that does not always move quickly, telehealth usage became widespread almost overnight. And to the surprise of some — me included — it is pretty terrific.
Telehealth can spare patients a hectic drive and a crowded waiting room. They don’t have to hunt for, and pay for, parking. Friends and family can participate in the visit without leaving home or taking a day off work. They can even participate from another state. As providers, telehealth can expand our reach beyond local geography.
But there are challenges. Through a phone call or video interaction, it can be hard to read the audience. Imagine giving bad news to a patient — really bad news, like a terminal diagnosis. Would you know if they were hearing you? Losing the battle with emotion? Shutting down? Are they confused? Angry? It’s hard to tell on video, and impossible over the phone.
And not everyone is comfortable with technology. During a 15- or 20-minute telehealth visit, time is precious. Efficiency is key. A telehealth visit with a technophobic patient can begin with five or 10 minutes of IT support, and the physician is the one providing the support.
These challenges need to be addressed, and third-party payors are going to have a lot to say about telehealth adoption. But I think our patients are going to demand that we find creative solutions. If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything, it’s that health care is not the lumbering slave to inertia we thought it was. Health care can be nimble when it needs to be.
If you would like to share your views and experiences on any healthcare topic that impacts the NM community, please reach out to us at email@example.com, and we may share your perspective here in a future issue of Physician Focus.Christopher George, MD Medical Director Cancer Program Northwestern Medicine West Region