mHealth’s great promise to ease the coming physician shortage

With a range of technologies including mHealth apps, patient portals, PHRs, EHRs and telemedicine, doctors may be able to treat a substantial percentage of their patients remotely or asynchronously.

What’s more, the array of health information technologies, when put to more widespread use, promises to simultaneously enable physicians to see more patients and decrease the demand for doctors.

By harnessing health IT, “5 to 15 percent of care could involve interactions between consumers and providers not only from separate locations, but at different points in time,” wrote Jonathan Weiner, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Population Health IT; Susan Yeh, a doctoral candidate at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health; and David Blumenthal, president of the the Commonwealth Fund and former national coordinator for health IT, in a November Health Affairs article

Now that sounds like a high percentage, and at least as things stand today, it might be overly ambitious, but the authors contend that “these estimated impacts could more than double if comprehensive health IT systems were adopted by 70 percent of U.S. ambulatory care delivery settings.”

The Yin is that the authors project if these health technologies gain purchase among approximately one-third of community-based physicians, that would drive demand for doctors down by as much as 9 percent, largely via the delegation of care to nurse practitioners and physician assistants. 

And the Yang is comprised of efficiency gains from health IT that could enable doctors to treat up to 15 percent more patients. 

Now, mobile and telemedicine solutions won’t be able to solve all the problems a dearth of doctors will create, but there is reason to think that the shortage might not be as bad as perhaps previously thought.

There is, of course, one little great big hitch to all this: It will only work if patients oblige.

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