The US federal government allocated a hefty 20.3% of the national budget to healthcare this year, with no intention of capping spending. The government is projected to spend approximately $1.3 trillion on healthcare expenditures in 2014, hiking up the budget by $100 billion dollars since 2013 and $300 billion within the last 2009.

The reality of US healthcare spending

Contrary to popular belief, spending more than every other country does not mean our quality of healthcare is better. The US healthcare spending has amounted to 18.9% of GDP in 2014, which is nearly twice the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of total health expenditure as a share of GDP. Even with this immense spending, there are still less physicians and less hospital beds per 1,000 people in the US, an ever-increasing obesity rate, and a rather high infant mortality rate for a developed country. The US infant mortality rate is 6.17 deaths per 1,000 live births, while Japan, a comparable country in development and population, has 2.31 deaths per 1,000 live births. Japan has the highest life expectancy among developed nations at 84 years, while the US sits at 78.49 years. Even though Japan is healthier by statistical measures, they only spend $2,878 per person on health care every year while the US spends a staggering $8,233. The dilemma our nation must solve is how to spend less and get more. To improve the healthcare system infrastructure and maintain sustainability requires innovation with a dash of technology.

Changing the game with technology

Telehealth is a major facet in the future of healthcare, with promise to improve systematic logistics and bridge the gap between doctors and patients cost effectively. Beyond updating medical records from paper to electronic, telehealth can provide patients with more relevant medical information on their condition and possible treatment options before stepping foot into a hospital. This technology can save people time and money, while also providing them an opportunity to take an active role in their healthcare. This technology is opening the door to better consumer healthcare by empowering patients and offering them relevant medical information to make decisions about their own healthcare. Being an informed consumer can be the difference between undergoing a costly Mohs surgery and a more affordable standard procedure to remove a skin lesion. Telehealth is the medium for consumer healthcare to inform patients and provide doctors a useful resource and tool to assist in diagnosing, triaging and treating patients. Nothing can replace doctors and patient-physician relationships, but technology can improve the overall healthcare system to provide a better consumer experience.

 By engineering technology that is more convenient, affordable, and communicative, telehealth is changing the game of healthcare. This field has engendered innovations ranging from 3D printing biomaterials to digestible sensors to interoperability enterprises. The biggest problem in healthcare today is the expense and lack communication at all points of contact. Direct access to clinical information on smartphones and laptops that will increase effectiveness of initial treatment, monitoring and follow-up care. Numerous apps, such as HealthLoop, are improving the line of communication between healthcare professionals and patients specifically focusing on follow up care and monitoring. Teledermatology apps are also changing the game, bridging the gap between patients and dermatologists by providing an open line of communication, accurate diagnosis and treatment suggestions and effective triaging. With fees less than a copay, people are able to send pictures and symptoms of their condition to a licensed doctor and receive a timely response. The First Derm app estimated that for 70% of cases submitted to their platform could be treated with over-the-counter medications and did not require a face-to-face doctor’s visit. This under appreciated contact can provide better patient care for a low cost and curb unnecessary doctor visits. Telehealth encompasses unprecedented thinking to reduce cost and increase quality of patient care.

The future of healthcare

As deductibles and copays soar, healthcare is becoming unaffordable and unmanageable. Healthcare costs are climbing four times faster than wages, leaving 15.6% of Americans uninsured. Telehealth is providing an opportunity for modern America to take healthcare into their own hands. People will no longer have to wait in the emergency room for hours for minor ailments, to be referred to another department to wait more and make appointments weeks down the road. Technology has changed the face of our society, culture and medicine, although the healthcare system is still struggling with providing timely information, coordinating care and managing administrative troubles. If implemented correctly, telehealth has the potential to reduce healthcare costs while saving people time and money.

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