It’s very easy to be on the wrong side of history. When IBM dismissed the personal computer as a passing fad, it lost its chance to be an enduring player in that market. And the same is true for physician organizations that take a short-term view of telemedicine’s transformative power.
Case in point: the Florida Medical Association staunchly opposes the Florida Telemedicine Act, a proposed bill that would allow physicians licensed in other states to treat Florida patients via telemedicine. In fact, the FMA recently conducted a statewide patient survey to try to bolster its position.
More than half of the 600 patients surveyed were “strongly opposed” to letting out-of-state physicians treat them. But it’s highly unlikely that any of those patients have had a life-saving encounter with a remote physician. If you were to survey stroke patients in rural Idaho who have been administered tPA by a physician thousands of miles away, you’d get a much different story.
The FMA is obviously taking the myopic stance that physicians in Boston or Chicago might take business away from Florida doctors – or might deliver inferior care. That’s absurd, of course, and it overlooks telemedicine’s long-range potential.
The FMA’s line-in-the-sand opposition reminds us of the roadblocks faced by early proponents of laparoscopic surgery, which is now a worldwide standard of care. One of the pioneers in that field, Dr. Erich Mühe, was nearly hounded out of the medical profession in the 1980s.
Like Dr. Mühe, telemedicine advocates are on the right side of history, even though they’re facing many obstacles at the moment. Twenty years from now, medical students will scratch their heads and wonder why telemedicine had its critics in 2014. Some breakthroughs – like personal computers, laparoscopic surgery, and telemedicine – are too pivotal and important to resist.