Once upon a time, your career was in, or next to, your home. You lived above your shop or next to your farm. Today, of course, many of our careers function with very little consideration to geography, except inasmuch as it affects time zones. Mine certainly does.
(Not to be a hipster, but I spent my days on Zoom before it was cool….)
However, we’ve continued to assume that healthcare professionals (HCPs) are still a local commodity. The first question doctor-finder databases ask is how close a user wishes to be to their HCP. If we have a rare or serious condition, we might choose a faraway HCP, but probably only then.
But in the last two months, COVID-19 has shoved telemedicine into the realm of the everyday (after languishing, entirely feasible but entirely underused, for a decade or more). You, like me, have probably already had a telemedicine visit with your HCP.
In so many ways, we’re noticing the permanence of the pandemic, and how things will never really “go back to normal.” Telemedicine is one of those ways. Once we experience avoiding a drive, a long (germy) wait, and a disruption to our day, and notice that we get even more undivided attention from our HCP – we won’t want to eliminate it as an option. Once HCPs realize they can see patients more efficiently, more safely, and in many cases more profitably… they won’t either.
Telemedicine is here to stay, and with it, the untethering of healthcare from location.
As we enter our “new normal,” rather than considering location first, we may choose the HCP with the highest ratings in our condition; or the one who treated our friend… even if that friend is halfway across the country. In-person visits will still matter: we’ll all still need to be examined and undergo procedures in person sometimes. But location will no longer be the first or only determinant of our choice.
The ripple effects will be fascinating. Where practices choose to locate; which practices HCPs choose to join; how HCPs learn to compete nationally or even internationally; how payers cover care that has less and less connection to geography. It’s all going to change.
The pandemic will put many small businesses out of business and many of those will be healthcare practices. The ones that survive and thrive will be the ones that who make the best use of social media and patient referrals, who are most adept at using telemedicine technology to make their patients feel cared for, and who build their practices on more than their locations.
In the same way as CPG retailers had to learn how to function online in the 1990s, HCPs will have to learn the same lesson in the 2020s. It will require new and different abilities and investments. It will be yet another way our world will be different.