While COVID-19 remains a fierce medical maelstrom for doctors, a move to integrating more medical tech in general practice might be an unintended positive side-effect, writes Paul Bugeja.
In COVID-19, doctors and many others in the medical profession are facing a generational challenge that may be alleviated thanks to improved use of medical tech.
Medical tech is already a huge thing for the profession as it is constantly developed to improve every aspect of patient diagnosis, treatment and care, but when it comes to general practice, while tech is commonplace some might argue it’s not being used as much as it could.
At the heart of general practice has always lived the notion of it being a service where patients seeking care want to sit down face to face with their local doctor and be diagnosed, or referred on where necessary. It’s almost become for many a personal relationship, with some doctors forming near-lifelong associations with patients, which can in turn lead to improved health outcomes as doctors can therefore have a much more holistic understanding of their patient’s long-term health issues.
And then came COVID-19 and social distancing and forecasts of an overwhelmed health system...which is where medical tech might come to the rescue.
We are already seeing this in place. From diagnosis to treatment to management to fighting misinformation, across the globe in so many ways, medical professionals are jumping on whatever medical tech they can to tackle COVID-19.
Australia is joining this uptake of medical tech with gusto. Our first ‘virtual hospital’ is being put together so those with COVID-19 can be treated at home. It involves the use of medical tech and AI to monitor those with the virus and thus only bringing them into what might soon be burgeoning hospital wards for treatment if their symptoms require physical treatment.
And then there’s the new COVID-19 diagnostic tool - COV-ed - developed by University of Sydney medical radiation scientist, Professor Patrick Brennan, which could prove an invaluable resource for frontline healthcare workers to rapidly identify those infected with the virus.
But maybe the most significant recent development for doctors and GP’s is the Federal government’s $500m expansion of telehealth items to the medicare schedule.
While less a medical tech innovation and more a COVID-19 driven response to protect the health of doctors and medical staff, this sweeping change still represents an incredible opportunity for a much longer-term change in general practice healthcare delivery.
Clearly, the tech is a little old hat now - we’ve had the ability to facetime, video call and webcam chat in our personal lives for over two decades.
But the innovation of allowing it as a substitute for face-to-face treatment could end up leading to a major shift in how the modern general practice works.
Of course, there will always be patients who need or prefer to attend face-to-face appointments with their doctor, and some critics of an expanded telehealth service fear it could lead to the system being taken advantage of in terms of patient churn to increase profit.
However, the likely extended use of medical tech during the next six to twelve months as we manage the rolling COVID-19 crisis could also prove to be an amazing opportunity to embrace medical tech, use it wisely and change the general practice landscape - for the better - forever.
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