The Internet has proven a great advancement in many fields of work with recent trends of globalization. We are more connected than ever, and access to the Internet is not dependent on economic status. For example, people living in developing countries can access the Internet through inexpensive mobile phones.
What if patients could receive healthcare services via the Internet?
This concept has been actualized in the Guangdong province of China with the innovation of an “Internet Hospital.”
This “hospital” provides outpatient service delivery. Patients only need to travel short distances from their homes to local medical consultation facilities. At the facility, the patient is able to meet with a doctor from a high-level hospital that is more central to the city. The consultation occurs with a webcam and instant messaging.
The doctors ask questions of the patient, who can also send or show images of medical checks. While this takes place, the patient’s body temperature, blood pressure and other medical information are collected. It is then sent to the doctor, who can use the data in combination with the webcam interaction to diagnose the patient and write a prescription immediately.
This type of healthcare service is ideal in China because high-level hospitals are often overcrowded expensive. Patients are less likely to visit local health clinics because they are perceived to provide low-quality care. To some extent, skilled doctors also choose not to work in small communities with fewer opportunities for career growth and increased salaries.
The advantages of the Internet hospital include high-quality and personalized health care accessed from more convenient locations. In high-level hospitals, doctors are likely to spend only a couple of minutes which each patient; however, the Internet hospital allows these same doctors to spend more than 10 minutes with each patient. Furthermore, the average cost of drugs from local clinics is only a quarter of that of drugs purchased at top-level hospitals. While the same skilled doctor writes the prescription, the medicine is purchased from the local clinic versus the large hospital.
Implementation of the Internet hospital has proven successful. More than 500 patients are seen every day and there are now over 1,000 sites for the medical consulting facilities. These facilities have high satisfaction scores.
While health insurance, quality control and the cases of diagnoses that cannot be made via the Internet all pose potential challenges for the Internet hospital, it has helped many people and continues to make healthcare more affordable and accessible.
– Iliana Lang
Sources: The Lancet Global Health, The Journal of Health Economics
Photo: Global Times