Telemedicine is one of the big items mentioned as why we need ubiquitous fast broadband that is suitable for things like two way video conferencing. Certainly if anyone produces a list of the cost benefits that a full fibre deployment will create telemedicine is very high up the list.
A recent telehealth initiative that aims to get 100,000 of us in the UK talking to our doctor over broadband by 2013, led us run a poll and see what the opinion of our visitors was like in this respect.
The results show that while 56% of people think that a video conference with a health professional is a good idea, the fact that 30% think otherwise indicates that many are wary of this sort of move. Certainly while we are excited by the prospect of easier access to health professionals and their advice, there will be many for whom their condition requires various actual physical checks, or simply the person is uncomfortable talking to a random person over the Internet. Something that is beyond the scope of our quick polls, but should be considered is whether video conference consultations work better if the patient has previously met the person at the other end.
With basic email being used so heavily in day to day and business life the results of asking people whether they have ever contacted their GP or other health professional using their Internet connection gave a very surprising result. 82% claim to have never done so, and only 3% use the Internet frequently to do so. While this may be in part attributed to most of us not having need to be in contact with our local surgery, the suggestion is that even for routine stuff like making an appointment with the dentist we still use the telephone rather than an online system.
One area that there appears to be over whelming support (72% support) for is that if telemedicine does lead to the proposed savings, which appear to be the political driver behind the push is that for those who are actually require home visits to see more investment in this part of the health care regime. As more of the population year on year are living at home alone this becomes even more important to ensure that isolation and the potential for depression are avoided. The total immersion in the online world can mean that people will assume that daily contact via video conferencing will solve social isolation, and while it helps in the same way as a phone call to distant relatives helps, there is no substitute for someone visiting, and actually having the time to stay for a 20 minute chat after any ‘official’ business has been concluded.
The final question in our quick poll may not reflect the general population, as many of the visitors to thinkbroadband are likely to the tech literate and the sort of people who already use Skype to communicate with friends and family, but even so we still have 25% of those responding to our poll saying they have never carried out a two-way video chat. Critics of the UK broadband infrastructure will be dissapointed to see that only 8% have tried and failed, we even gave the pointer that if your broadband was too slow to indicate this.
In summary it seems there should be no problem with video conferencing as a way of interacting with health professionals starting in 2013, plenty of people appear to support the idea. For telemedicine to gain acceptance though it needs to be done in a way that is not forced upon people, and that there is no dilution of the quality of care. There are many people among the retired population, who simply due to the facts that as we get older we all require more access to health resources who will not be comfortable without face to face contact with their local GP surgery, but with a wave of teenagers who know nothing but online interaction, things will be very different as they grow up, have families and hopefully look after us in our old age.