When it comes to advances in technology, there is no doubt that the Internet plays a major role in the quality of healthcare never before available. In fact, there are so many ways in which the Internet has improved the industry as a whole, that it would take volumes to address them all. For the time being, let’s look at some of the most important ways in which the Internet is changing, and continues to change, the face of healthcare in the 21st century.
1. Easier and Faster Access to Providers
One of the most common complaints among providers and patients alike has been the wait times between appointments. This is largely due to a severe shortage of providers and it is projected to only get worse. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, the United States alone will see a shortage of as many as 139,000 doctors by the year 2033.
The Internet offers the availability of online consultations which eliminates much of the wait time. Some doctors admit that they can almost double their caseloads because of the ability to schedule appointments through telemedicine video conferencing utilities. Of note, telemedicine enables patients to schedule regular visits with their primary providers without concerns of coming in contact with contagions such as during the Covid-19 pandemic.
2. Digital Online Records
Another key way in which the Internet is changing the face of healthcare in the 21st century is the benefit of accessing digital records online. While a patient and other specialists or providers need security access to those records, they are made instantly available saving both time and money.
Not only does this allow patients to get lab results the moment they are released, but specialists can be consulted much faster as well. All labs and diagnostics are in that patient’s digital file and can be referred to without the need for faxes or couriers. It might be added that this also eliminates the waste produced by printed copies held in physical file folders.
Over time, the availability of digital patient records online offers physicians the ability to track a patient’s progress. Oftentimes it is difficult to accurately diagnose a disease or condition because there is no way to quickly access that patient’s history. Digital records online provide a history that can be quickly read and analyzed when an accurate diagnosis is elusive.
3. Ease of Collaboration Among Primary Providers and Specialists
Speaking of easily accessible patient records, it is also vital for providers to collaborate with their own teams as well. Today’s physician typically employs or works with other healthcare professionals within the same office setting. Many doctors contract Physician’s Assistants or Nurse Practitioners who have many of the same privileges as the doctors under which they work.
More and more doctors are employing Family Nurse Practitioners, FNPs, to handle the bulk of their caseload. Not only does this give patients greater access to healthcare but it frees physicians up for emergency rounds at hospitals with which they are associated. The role of an FNP at Texas Women’s University is well-defined as one of collaborator. Although approximately half of the states allow for autonomous FNPs, many are still working in offices with, and in collaboration with, primary and specialist physicians. FNPs enjoy the same benefits the Internet offers physicians in terms of access to patients, records and others collaborating on cases. It’s an amazing field to study for, especially at this time of such a severe shortage of doctors.
4. Distance Learning for Education in Healthcare
Earning a degree as an FNP was almost unattainable in previous years. Many RNs worked long hours and with their schedules, had little time to attend on campus courses. The Internet has provided a vehicle through which nurses can now attain that graduate degree online. Just as telemedicine enables patients easier and faster access to providers, distance learning from major institutions like Texas Women’s University gives nurses a solid chance for advancement.
They can study at their own pace and get that degree they yearn for which was previously all but impossible due to time and availability. It is no longer necessary to take an education sabbatical from the job to further their career and the cost is much lower in so very many ways. There is no transportation to be concerned with and no need for hiring sitters for kids or losing hours from work. It’s a win-win for budding FNPs all the way around.
5. Availability of Information and Tools for Patients
Patient records mentioned above are not the only things patients have access to online. Internet technology offers patients a great number of tools that will help them cope with any illnesses they are suffering while providing information for healthier lifestyles. From researching the medications they are prescribed to general information on particular concerns they may have in regard to diagnosed conditions, there is a wealth of information available to them with just a simple Google search.
However, it should also be mentioned that much of the information posted online isn’t recognized by the medical community. It is always important to find peer reviewed documents and studies emanating from recognized medical schools or national medical associations. Although there is an abundance of good and reliable information out there, it is also possible to find totally inaccurate information such as that which might be found on YouTube.
As a word of warning, don’t take everything you hear or read as acceptable medical advice. When in doubt, speak with your own healthcare provider or compare questionable content with reputable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, the American Association of Physicians, AAP, or the American Medical Association, AMA.
6. Internet Connectivity of Wearables
Here is another amazing benefit only possible because of the Internet. There are a number of wearables on the market that help patients monitor their health. One of the most widely well-known commercial wearables is Fitbit but that was just the advent of a whole host of wearables including the now-popular Apple Watch and competitors such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch. However, those aren’t meant to be connected to a physician’s office for diagnostics. They are simply tools for monitoring your own health.
Many doctors now use wearables that have Internet connectivity via Bluetooth to a watch or computer and those are the ones most likely to offer benefits in healthcare. Many diabetics wear glucose monitors that record results online and also send a warning communication to the prescribing physician. Then there are apps for smartphones that record data and are linked via the Internet to a doctor’s office. This sends real-time data to the provider who, in turn, can immediately communicate with the patient to prevent a life-threatening event.
7. Meeting the Demands of a Shortage of Healthcare Providers
This particular way in which the Internet is changing the face of healthcare is perhaps one of the most important in terms of healthcare availability. As mentioned above, there is already a severe shortage of doctors and other providers such as FNPs and PAs. Within the course of a single decade, the shortage of providers will be so severe that it will be labeled as ‘in crisis.’ Much of the world is already in crisis and with a country as affluent and technological as the United States, this would be a travesty.
It is now possible to get much of the required education online which makes it much easier to attain the necessary degree. Yes, there will be clinicals required for most levels within a particular field, but the academics can be accomplished from literally anywhere. Whether you choose an Internet café or the solitude of your home, as long as you are connected, you can study. With the rapid rise in the cost of living, distance learning is increasingly sought after and in the field of medicine, this is a major boon.
A Long Needed Solution In Cyberspace
Enough cannot be said about this shortage of providers but perhaps the Internet will, at long last, offer a much needed light at the end of the tunnel. Not only can the Internet provide a channel through which serious students can gain that degree but the online tools available can make it possible for any healthcare provider to excel in their field.
From communicating with other healthcare professionals to scheduling online patient appointments, there is much that was never before possible. Patients as well as healthcare providers benefit from the availability and speed of the Internet and in medicine, this is of utmost importance. When it comes to technology, many professionals and laypersons alike laud the Internet as the savior of modern medicine, and probably rightfully so. There is nothing quite like a speedy diagnosis in a life-threatening situation and, in the end, the Internet is just what makes that possible. Indeed, perhaps the greatest innovation in modern medicine is the Internet!