We’ve all seen Clint Eastwood westerns where the sheriff says, “We can’t treat him here…the closest doctor is in Dodge City.”
Without telemedicine, that’s the future we’re all facing. In little more than a year, some 30 million new patients will enter the U.S. healthcare system – the equivalent of every man, woman and child inVenezuela. Meanwhile, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicts that the physician shortage in America will reach 130,000 by 2025.
One of the main reasons for the shortage is that the federal government has capped its funding for doctor residencies. Because there are so many deficit hawks in Congress now, it’s unlikely that the cap will be increased anytime soon – and efforts at private funding have stalled. You know we’re in trouble when a Congressman named “Price” (Tom Price, R-Ga.) bemoans the price of training physicians, but can’t muster the votes to change things.
Atul Grover, the AAMC’s chief public policy officer, recently said that “we’re going to have to find ways to see more patients with fewer physicians” to handle the increased volume.
And that’s exactly what telemedicine is doing. While politicians dither and medical schools stay in no-growth mode, telemedicine is enabling the doctors we do have to extend their reach. In fact, telemedicine solves one of today’s thorniest problems: the need for doctor relocation. These days, a young doctor can improve the quality of care in rural communities without ever leavingPhiladelphia or San Francisco.
Like a storm blowing through a western town in that Clint Eastwood movie, there’s a perfect storm on the horizon: millions of new patients, not enough doctors. That storm may be strong enough to blow away all remaining barriers to telemedicine.