Let’s start with a little bubble bursting, and no, I am not talking about the price of Bitcoin. Apologies to the Trekkies, but nowhere in the original Star Trek series were the words, ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ ever uttered. Captain Kirk came close a few times, but that iconic phrase is some weird amalgamation of our collective imaginations.
The very idea of the teleporter in Star Trek arose from an economic need. The original show had a very small budget (Let’s save money on costumes by making them all wear these pajama outfits all the time!) and could not afford to show the entire Enterprise spaceship landing on different planets for each episode as originally planned. So, someone came up with the idea of the teleporter, and wa-la, Kirk, Spock and the gang could magically appear wherever the script needed them to be.
We’ve been thinking about the Star Trek teleporter as a metaphorical representation of the role technology (along with consumer brand preferences) is playing in the erosion of the old adage, ‘All healthcare is local.’
Sheldon or some other theoretical physicist would tell us that actual Star Trek-type teleportation is impossible. But while we can’t disassemble, transport, and then reassemble actual atoms, we can do a lot of things that now render the restrictions of time and place far less restrictive.
Telemedicine, which sounds a lot like teleportation but then turns out to be more like a FaceTime call with your mother than a quick trip to Vulcan, is just the most front-of-mind example because of ol’ annoying COVID but is illustrative.
Once patients adjust to using technology to access aspects of their healthcare, then the range of alternatives gets a lot bigger. It used to be the options for getting your meds filled were the pharmacy on this corner or that one. To compete, you just had to be a little better than the other guy. Now you must beat Amazon, too.
Telemedicine is the same. If your patient experience is limited and clunky, your patients are just a click away from someone better. Local doesn’t mean jack squat.
I acknowledge the immediate objection. Most things in healthcare still require one human (let’s call them the least interesting and sexy thing we can imagine – how about ‘provider?’) to lay hands on the patient. Technology can help, but not replace, that process.
But ask yourself this – how much more healthcare can be delivered remotely now compared to just five years ago? What about five years from now?
What will remote patient monitoring change?
How about patient-directed at-home diagnostic testing tied to a ‘provider’ via technology?
Even hospitals, never even a finalist in the ‘most innovative thinkers’ competition, are trying to imagine the ‘at home hospital.’
The point is technology will continue to abolish historical demands that care must be local, including things in your practice that you take for granted.
Next time we start talking about what you can do about this sea change.