The fledgling field of telemedicine will soon be very big business on a global scale.  The world is rapidly moving towards an environment wherein many medical services will be virtually provided via the Internet.  This is as certain as it once was that a significant portion of retail goods and services would fly their way through cyberspace and into consumers’ hands.  In the process, a new genre of retailers was created, led by Jeff Bezos’ amazon.com.  And now, the international stage is set for someone to “amazon” the healthcare industry.  Who might that someone be?

I first became intrigued with the field of telemedicine when our firm was hired by a major hospital to design a patient portal.  It quickly became apparent that no matter where we started, we wouldn’t be truly finished until the same portal used to do mundane tasks such as appointment scheduling was also used to conduct virtual appointments via the Internet.

During the course of this engagement, I happened into a CVS pharmacy with a Minute Clinic staffed by a Nurse Practitioner greeting the only patient she had.  This “innovative” approach to primary care seemed very inefficient to me.  Despite this, I discovered that CVS has serious expansion plans for their Minute Clinics.

I walked out of the CVS scratching my head that day.  There was something wrong with the picture, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Then it hit me.  The patient-provider real time-space paradigm was outdated, inefficient and unnecessary.  Historically, seeing a doctor has been a pain in the backside because it necessitated patient and provider being in the same place at the same time.  The conventional view of telemedicine breaks only half of the paradigm (place), but continues to assume that patient and provider must be connected real-time (albeit virtually) for the provider to render an accurate diagnosis.  Why?

Why can’t doctors “DVR” some of their patient cases to be seen at the time most convenient and efficient for them?  Why can’t patients “see” their doctors at times most convenient and efficient for them?  Breaking the real time patient-provider paradigm breaks exciting new ground for all healthcare providers.   It paves the way for a new paradigm with limitless possibilities.  Possibilities that can only be realized once we can connect… any patient…to any provider…anywhere… at any time.

Why is telemedicine usage as certain to explode as the Internet itself did in the mid 1990’s?  The answers are much the same.  It’s because the providers, payers and patients (a.k.a. customers) will demand it.  Providers will demand it because it allows them to see more patients at higher margins and leverage more ancillary services.  Payers will demand it because it will drive down the cost of many services and eliminate many unnecessary ones (although there are concerns that telemedicine could increase frivolous doctor visits).   Patients will demand it because it will give them much more freedom, flexibility and convenience in how they receive healthcare, not to mention avoiding the interminable time wasted in doctors’ waiting rooms.  They’re call “waiting rooms” for good reason.

One day, every healthcare provider will perform some of their services via the Internet.  Indeed, some will provide 100% of their medical services without ever physically seeing their patients.  And, as was in 1995 when Mr. Bezos  founded amazon.com in his Bellevue, Washington garage, there is now an unprecedented opportunity to create a new genre of virtual healthcare providers.

Like amazon, these cyber-docs will be unfettered by the bricks and mortar of their predecessors.  Their market will not be limited to patients within driving distance of their offices.  These pioneering providers will usher in a new world healthcare order.  Imagine a world in which any patient… can see any doctor… anywhere… at any time.  It’s coming faster than you can imagine.

Next post, I’ll offer insights into who is best positioned to “amazon” healthcare, then we’ll consider the biggest business opportunity to come along since the early dot com crazy days…amazingly, nobody is talking about it…except me.