The Virtual Care Insider

The Telemedicine Switch: Taking Healthcare Delivery from Analog to Digital

in Industry

Jon Pearce

Jon Pearce
CEO
May 17, 2017

When telemedicine was born, making a phone call required an operator from one of the Bells to physically switch lines in her circuit board. To buy another “line” literally meant running a phone line from that switching board to your house through the ground and air.

Analog healthcare delivery

Today, we have a “standard” of telemedicine that is still phone calls. Yes, we have video, but if the data from the industry is valid, it’s still #2 to phone calls by a long shot. (And, if you read my other posts you know that video won’t be the standard in healthcare because…well…it’s not the standard in any other industry).

Previously, I noted that it’s important to distinguish between a new healthcare experience in telemedicine and embracing telemedicine as the future. It’s true that most patients have never engaged in telemedicine (though that’s rapidly changing), so the analog still feels fresh. We perceive telemedicine as being state-of-the-art. But it’s not.

This is especially true for regulators and payers who are just now beginning to embrace alternative care models. They are tied to the mode of care that looks most like what care has always been – so a bit of an “innovation bias” still exists in the industry.

Telemedicine 2.0The trouble is that telemedicine’s DNA is the same as Blockbuster’s or Ma Bell’s: it’s analog. It’s tied to physical objects or locations, like cathode ray tubes, cords, carts, and call-centers. Improvements touted in telemedicine are higher definition screens and faster call-back times. Imagine if Steve Jobs had not released the iPhone but instead released a flip phone that simply had a faster speed-dial with a prettier display – that’s “Telemedicine 2.0.”

The Digital Age is Here

Unfortunately, Telemedicine’s analog DNA has reached its evolutionary pinnacle. Call-back times and call centers can only scale so far; their flawed unit economics collapse; their data silos crumble.

As digital technologies become more and more commonplace, the old telemedicine models are beginning to show their age.

Virtual Care: The Next (Digital) Frontier

Just like cell phones and WiFi are the natural digital successors to land lines and dial-up modems, we have virtual care as a digital progenitor of telemedicine. Where telemedicine grew out of hard-wired, analog telecommunications, virtual care’s roots are digital, meaning that it has almost no reliance on physical objects. Instead, virtual care is logical, device agnostic, and data-driven. Virtual care connects systems and data by nature, not exception. APIs and SDKs frolic between platforms.

What this means for healthcare cannot be understated.

The transition to virtual care will usher in wide-spread adoption by patients, it will break down data silos that muck up efficient and effective healthcare delivery, and it will uncork pent up economic innovation in the industry. This is certain – how fast this it all happens depends on, well, the switching costs.

Telemedicine = Analog Virtual Care = Digital
  • Equipment: Hardware-specific
  • Equipment: Device-agnostic
  • Connection: Call center
  • Connection: Cloud-based
  • Quality: Proprietary data
  • Quality: Standards-based
  • Integration: One-off interfaces
  • Integration: API & SDK
  • Efficiency: Limited difference from in-person
  • Efficiency: High for patient and provider

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