With the rise of e-commerce taking the economy by storm in all industries of business, its effects in healthcare - for the most part - remain to be seen. A recent Forbes article referred to healthcare as the last frontier for e-commerce; we are just beginning to see platforms for online accessible doctors, for medical information, or even just for maintaining fitness.
Popular medical apps
Medical applications for mobile devices span all types of functions for patients and physicians alike. There are more options than just those that focus on telemedicine, or providing access to physicians remotely.
Some applications focus on spreading information, such as digital versions of medical journals. For example, PubMed Mobile and The New England Journal of Medicine. More casual medical reference mobile applications exist, such as Medscape or UpToDate. FitBit is a great example of a fitness application that is helping make fitness more accessible to a more technologically savvy and connected general public.
Doctors also have access to clinical assistance applications. Information on diseases, photo sharing capabilities, social networks, and productivity aids are all features that are available. Other applications, such as Virtual Practice, provide patient monitoring for doctors.
Related read: Digital Healthcare: A New Approach to Care Coordination
The benefits of medical apps
Increased technology in the healthcare industry has had an overwhelming positive effect on both consumers and physicians alike. It is clear that medical mobile applications have the potential to lead to happier patients and physicians. The benefits of increased access to healthcare and medical information are considered in conjunction with greater efficacy and lower costs.
The spread of e-commerce to the healthcare industry has greatly contributed to the spread of information across the nation, evening out the large asymmetry of knowledge between physicians and patients. Apps for physician reviews like Yelp, online doctors like Doctor on Demand, and health information like Medscape all contribute to a more informed populace who can better make the right decisions for their health. Even more specifically, Doctor on Demand and other applications that provide remote access to doctors, which is particularly vital in rural areas where less medical services are readily available.
When online medical options exist, non-emergent patients will use them to have appointments with doctors, rather than using office-based physicians, hospitals, or urgent care facilities. In turn, the limited resources of medical tools as well as the staffers' time at hospitals and offices are diverted to more emergent needs — all of the patients whose needs are not able to be addressed remotely.
One of the main advantages of medical applications over traditional medical care in offices is the lower costs charged to patients. Thus, when doctors are needed for non-emergency reasons, patients get a direct benefit from choosing online options, depending on their insurance coverage.
Related read: How Much Does It Cost to Develop an App for Healthcare?
Role in the healthcare industry
Mobile medical applications have notable benefits for consumers and patients. However, some of these apps specifically focus on displacing traditional doctor visits with online ones.
Online doctors charge less for visits with patients, and they have less monthly costs than traditional office doctors. Traditional doctors have to pay for other medical staff such as nurses, an office, storage for medical information and data, utilities for the office, and more.
Despite this, there is very little reason to believe that the transformation of the healthcare industry due to the growing role of e-commerce and medical mobile applications will have a negative effect on traditional doctors or traditional doctors' visits.
Certain patient needs can only be addressed in-person, such as invasive procedures like surgeries or treatment for serious conditions. Furthermore, many people prefer in-person appointments with a doctor they can get to know over the convenience factor that comes with telemedicine.
Finally, it seems that telemedicine and medical applications will be used primarily for those who would otherwise not have gone to a doctor due to money constraints and non-emergencies. Thus, it appears that they will serve as a supplement rather than as a complement to standard doctor office visits. For instance, one hospital paired with a telemedicine option to achieve $1 million in cost avoidance in one year.
Though technological advancements appear to be a net gain for society on the surface, it is possible they could unhealthily supplement traditional doctor visits in a way that is not beneficial to the patient. In particular, it's important to consider how medical applications and programs that try to replace traditional physicians' visits will affect the healthcare industry and doctors nationwide.
All in all, medical applications provide a lot of options for patients and doctors to share and gain information. Though the future of technology and telemedicine in the medical industry is still to be determined, it is clear that the effects will truly transform medicine as we know it — and for the better.
This is a guest post by Nick Andrew Rojas. Nick is a self-taught serial entrepreneur who has worked with various startups as a business consultant. He's also a journalist focusing on technology, marketing, and social media. He loves meeting new people online and being challenged with new projects. He loves to connect, so reach out on Twitter! @nickarojas.