DOCTORS ON DEMAND...
We may be the last generation to experience the well-thumbed magazines, rickety chairs and awkward tedium of the doctor’s waiting room. Within the next five years, Texas-based South African entrepreneur Clinton Phillips aims to eliminate the wait, the room and the army of front-of-house staff and, instead, use a cellphone app to connect medical care to a billion people across the globe. By the time you read this, the likes of the US Olympic squad will be using his Medici app to gain direct online access to their medical team. Think of it as a sort of Airbnb of medicin... show Moree.
Medici styles itself as a global initiative to bring all the world’s medical professionals on to a single, simple and mobile platform. You can read more about it on Page 56 as part of this month’s feature on the role that artificial intelligence – virtual doctors! – is expected to play in future medical care. It’s a prospect so intriguing that I felt moved, facts aside, to engage in a face-to-face chat (virtual, of course, via a Skype video call) to get Phillips’s thinking on how tech is changing the doctorpatient relationship. “We are incredibly excited about people in rural areas, unserved areas, who can now ask the simplest or most complex questions, that they are currently walking 60 kilometres to discuss with somebody whose qualifications they are not even sure of,” he says.
Already established in the USA, he’s been in talks with South African interests that range from banking and insurance to cellphone service providers. The goal is to have 30 million South Africans invited to Medici by January 2018. Using this country as a base, he plans to broaden the system out to sub-Saharan Africa. Big plans are in place for South America and India. The good news for developing countries: even basic latest-technology phones will work Sometimes, though, throwing tech at a problem can aggravate things. Witness patients pouring out their hearts to a doctor sitting on the other side of a desk, practically ignoring them while staring fixedly at a computer monitor, busy ticking boxes or inputting information. The answer lies, not in more personal contact, but oddly enough in less. In the US, he says, it’s been found that as many as three out of four doctor’s visits can be done virtually. That’s three million people going to the doctor unnecessarily every day who could just as well use the SMS system, chat apps such as WhatsApp, or video calls. Of course, this takes us into a legal minefield with liability heading the list of concerns. Fortunately, the Medici package involves insurance cover and comprehensive legal backing that developed out of asking such questions as, can doctors create a new relationship online, or do they have to go through an existing (physical) doctor? Can a doctor in the US consult across state lines? Across the world?
And what to do with the mountain of data that will be generated? We’ll have access to our own medical libraries and histories, but to ensure good clinical care that data will need to be accessible to health professionals. Still, there will be those eager to use the data to less noble ends. Spammers and telesales companies will be disappointed to hear, then, that there are no plans to monetise patient data. As yet, anyway. Security is taken seriously, too: “If our patrons lose their cellphone their data is protected. We have the head of mobile security of Amazon on our team.” Ultimately, Phillips says, “We want our patrons comfortable that their data is not being used for anything that is not ultimately for their benefit, for the greater good.” We’re in for interesting times.
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