There aren’t enough doctors to go round. It’s a simple fact – and the situation is unlikely to improve. With finite resources and increasing demand, even wealthy countries are struggling to make healthcare accessible to all. For many poorer countries, the idea of providing a local doctor for everyone is no more than a distant dream. And the problem applies to both generalist physicians and specialists, to both primary care and hospitals.
But despite this, there are grounds for genuine optimism. Whilst we can’t put a full range of doctors on the ground in every village or neighbourhood, there are now other options. With today’s technological tools, doctors can reach people wherever they are. Amongst these tools, iPhone photography is playing a key role.
Increasing access to primary care
It’s not just those who live a long distance from a doctor who struggle with access to healthcare. People with mobility problems; without money for travel, or who find it hard to take time off work or away from caring responsibilities – all can miss out on vital treatment. For all of these groups, smartphone cameras pose a huge opportunity. Whether it’s a photo of a rash or a lump; a video of a child’s behaviour, or an image of a post-operative wound needing monitoring as it heals, people can get immediate answers to healthcare questions.
Unlike in the early days of remote medicine, there’s no need for patients to go to a clinic for a formal video or medical photography session. They can make contact from their home, workplace, or wherever is convenient.
Communication can be directly between patient and physician, or via local healthcare workers. And it’s not just images of the condition that can be sent. Images of monitoring equipment displays and scan results can be equally useful.
Increasing access to specialist input
When it comes to specialist advice, iPhone photography again offers big benefits. There’s a global shortage of specialists, and, as knowledge grows, doctors are developing ever-narrower fields of expertise. With iPhone photography a clear alternative to a face-to-face visit in a wide number of scenarios, it’s becoming increasingly possible to connect individual patients with the most appropriate specialist wherever each party might be.
The idea also works in a hospital setting. An on-call specialist can review images remotely and give immediate guidance, rather than trying to give advice over the phone or delaying treatment until he or she reaches the hospital.
Giving physicians time to reach more patients
Not only does smartphone medical photography give patients greater access to physicians, it allows physicians to reach a larger number of patients in the same time. It’s faster to review a photo than to see a patient face-to-face, so physicians can get through more cases.
Making care more affordable
Because it’s faster to review images than hold a face-to-face consultation, physicians can charge less. Their total revenue doesn’t drop, as they are handling more cases. But the cost to the patient goes down, making it easier for those on low incomes to access care.
Putting systems in place
More and more physicians are implementing software tools designed to integrate smartphone photography into routine practice. These systems streamline the process and also help doctors comply with any local legislation, such as laws relating to confidentiality. The technology is there – it’s up to us as both doctors and patients to use it and make the most of the benefits.