Is your child’s pediatrician better than a smartphone? No? Get a new pediatrician.
There’s no doubt that technology is changing the face of medicine. Today, surgeons can perform minimally invasive procedures with the assistance of a robot or replace missing limbs with bionic ones. Radiologists can read imaging studies from halfway around the world. There are specialists providing remote services to patients with strokes, women with high-risk pregnancies and critically ill neonates. Mental-health professionals are now able to offer life-changing care to patients who would otherwise be unable to access these services. And pediatricians in their offices can look into aching ears while the child remains in his or her living room . . . sort of.
All of this is a far cry from the Norman Rockwell image of a doctor from decades ago. But while there was an undeniable charm to the physician with the black leather bag, modern technology has improved medical care in ways we never dreamed possible. When used inappropriately, though, it can cause substantial harm.
One recent innovation is telemedicine — essentially, an office visit without the office . . . or the visit. Exactly how this works can vary greatly from provider to provider. Some primary-care doctors or specialists offer virtual visits (with the assistance of a nurse who is physically with the patient), interacting with the patient on a video screen and using advanced equipment to listen to the heart and lungs, look into the ears and throat, and perform other aspects of the physical exam remotely. On the other end of the spectrum are urgent-care services that deliver care to patients in their homes using nothing more than a smartphone.