Vintage 1960s cartoon provided a basic blueprint on telemedicine that won’t be achieved without a greater personal touch.
The year was 1962. Ninety percent of households had a TV, Love Me Do was the Beatles original release and John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth. Much of the country was mesmerized by space travel and the possibilities of what technology would bring to their everyday lives. One show that captured America’s future better than any other show of its time, was The Jetsons.
Set 100 years into the future, The Jetsons writers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, accurately portrayed a future with such innovations as flying drones, pill cameras, flat screen TVs and digital media. This was exceptionally amazing considering they created The Jetsons in a time when color TVs were just being introduced and the personal computer was still another 13 years away from launch.
Hanna-Barbera had a vision for the future to come that offered the convenience of modern technology, but preserved the natural human interactions of its users. It was not uncommon to see Jane making dinner with the press of a button, followed by the meal being enjoyed as a family at the dinner table. Hanna-Barbera also envisioned the role telemedicine would play in the future delivery of healthcare.
With a push of another button, Jane could meet with the family doctor in his life-size form, with eye contact and in 3D, right in their living room. The interaction was personal and similar to what would have been experienced at a family doctor’s office in the 1960s. This is in contrast to the realities of today’s telemedicine technologies that consist of computers, cell-phones and tablets with top mounted cameras, which show the physician small, distorted and hard to understand. Hanna-Barbera assumed that all future video collaborations would be as natural and real as the in-person interaction.
As the telemedicine industry still struggles to mainstream its role in our U.S. healthcare system, maybe the impersonal nature of today’s telemedicine technologies have been a contributing factor to the slow adoption? Consider all that goes into the production of a TV news show. More likely than not, the cast and crew spend an enormous amount of time ensuring the audio, lighting and positioning on camera are exactly right. When is the last time you watched a top-rated news broadcast that didn’t use studio lighting, lapel microphones and an inviting set? Would you even watch a news show that didn’t maximize your TV viewing experience? When it comes to telemedicine, most physicians broadcast to their patient on a portable device, in a poorly lit room and use a built-in computer microphone with no awareness of their surrounding ambient noise.
In addition to the poor production quality of the typical telemedicine broadcast, is a lack of eye contact. An absence of eye contact is often interpreted as being disinterested, insincere or even dishonest. This is the last thing a physician needs to be perceived as by a patient. Consider how many companies that never provide care to a single patient exist in the healthcare space today that are solely dedicated to helping health systems improve their patient satisfaction scores.
These companies guide the medical staff on interpersonal techniques such as AIDET, which stands for Acknowledge, Introduce, Duration, Explanation and Thank. AIDET was created by the Studer Group as a “foundational tactic for effective patient communication.” Studer’s very first principle “Acknowledge” is to, “Greet the patient by name. Make eye contact, smile and acknowledge family or friends in the room.” This is almost impossible with today’s telemedicine technology. Many millions of dollars are spent every year ensuring physicians understand the importance of these patient engagement strategies, all of which are then marginalized through technology that is disengaging.
If a telemedicine exam is going to attempt to capture the spirit of the natural communications between the patient and their physician, then the telemedicine community will need to look at other video based industries and assimilate their best practices. This was The Jetsons’ vision for the future. It is not just enough to have a patient and physician connected by video. The natural interactions of a digital exam room must mimic the real-life standards that the patient perceives are important to achieving their wellness. These video based principles will need to include life-size screens, eye contact, better lighting, sound and backgrounds. Investments for an enhanced patient experience will pay dividends in securing a greater role for telemedicine in the future.
1. Pearson, T. (2018). What Happened in 1962 inc. Pop Culture, Prices Significant Events, Key Technology and Inventions. [online]Thepeoplehistory.com. Available at: http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1962.html [Accessed 17 Mar. 2018].
2. Studergroup.com. (2018). AIDET Patient Communication. [online]Available at: https://www.studergroup.com/aidet [Accessed 17 Mar. 2018].
3. Studergroup.com. (2018). AIDET Patient Communication. [online]Available at: https://www.studergroup.com/aidet [Accessed 17 Mar. 2018].