The advent and wide dissemination of the Internet in private use have made many activities much more accessible than before, including distance education, telehealth, and web-based information resources. These changes have affected the quality of and access to healthcare services to a large extent. The most profound impact is felt in rural populations’ access to health services, which used to be a genuine challenge. In most cases, people from distant rural areas used to experience a dramatic lack of specialized healthcare assistance, with only a GP present in a small town. With the Internet’s quick spread and growing affordability, every family has a stable broadband connection today, thus acquiring the possibility to connect with medical doctors online.
Another notable change is the transition to electronic health records (EHRs). The EHRs are adopted in most healthcare establishments across the USA now, and patients no longer need to take their lab tests to their doctors’ cabinets. Online consultation with all patient data conveniently stored in an electronic file becomes a viable alternative to a physical visit to the clinic without quality compromises and loss of depth of insight (Sirintrapun & Lopez, 2018). Therefore, patients unable to come to the doctor’s office (residents of rural areas and disabled individuals) can still receive high-quality care in the comfort of their homes via telemedicine channels.
In addition, the Internet has set a new degree of accountability and social reviewing for health service providers. In the past, people had to rely on one specialist providing services in their local community, with no chance of getting an alternative opinion or double-checking the specialist’s reputation and competence before an appointment. However, today, residents of all locations have unlimited opportunities for social networking, review sharing, and more informed healthcare provider selection based on user-generated content. It is easy and manageable for any healthcare consumer to go to the Internet, search for the service or doctor of their interest, compare reviews, and make a fact-based decision.
An additional benefit of technology-enhanced medical care is its ability to reduce healthcare costs for large patient populations. According to Sirintrapun and Lopez (2018), Tele oncology proved to be an effective alternative to in-hospital care for cancer patients. The researchers found cancer telegenetics, leap bundles, and remote chemotherapy supervision efficient and cost-effective. Besides, telemedicine revealed its equivalency to in-person care and a high level of patient and health specialist satisfaction with the quality of symptom management, palliative care, etc. (Sirintrapun & Lopez, 2018). These benefits of distance healthcare applications are significant amid the rising costs of healthcare services and the financial burden of chronic diseases like cancer.
However, one should keep in mind that a massive transition to telemedicine and technology-enhanced ways of care delivery can potentially leave some population groups overboard. While millions of people appreciate the technological advancements in healthcare, those with limited access to technology or poor digital skills remain underserved. The problem is exceptionally topical for older adults who often resist the adoption of technology and do not possess digital apps to access medical care via the Internet. Another group of underserved patients is Indigenous/Aboriginal people with a low level of technology adoption. These categories stay beyond the outreach of Internet-enhanced medical care services and “fall into the cracks” of the medical system. Therefore, their healthcare needs require special attention and more nuanced approaches to guarantee universal access to healthcare for all people.
Sirintrapun, S. J., & Lopez, A. M. (2018). Telemedicine in cancer care. American Society of Clinical Oncology Educational Book, 38, 540-545.