We all dream of living long, healthy lives, but sometimes throats become scratchy, lumps appear, and unusual pains cause us to worry about the changing state of our health.
Traditionally a worrying symptom would mean calling a doctor's office and hoping that there was an appointment available that same day. Likely we would wait for a few days to slot into a 10-minute face-to-face meeting where pills may be prescribed, or referrals to specialists passed on.
Challenges around fitting in appointments with our work commitments, trying to find childcare as a single parent or worrying about the cost of a visit on a restricted income may deter some of us from visiting a doctor as we optimistically hope that our symptoms go away.
During the wait, thoughts may arise around why the delay in getting an appointment is so long, why the drive to the doctor is so far and if there is a better way to get help than making a sick person travel from their bed to a waiting room filled with other sick people.
For many of us, engaging with technology is a daily activity, and so it makes sense that distributing health-related services through digital could help to solve some of these problems.
Telehealth combines technology and medicine to provide new solutions to accessing healthcare remotely, storing medical information in the cloud and training health professionals nationwide.
In New Zealand, the use of telehealth technology has the potential to impact previously underserved patient populations with home-grown digital healthcare solutions.
Experiencing first-hand the needs of children with serious skin infections or rheumatic fever from untreated strep throat, Kaitaia-based doctor Lance O'Sullivan understands the unique challenges of medical practices in rural and underserved regions.
Rather than waiting for parents to bring their children into a doctor's office, he built software that empowers schools to provide healthcare programmes internally. Called iMOKO (short for Manawa Ora, Korokoro Ora healthy heart, healthy throat), the app helps trained caregivers to conduct health assessments of common child health problems including skin and dental infections, strep throat and head lice.
Connecting patients to remote healthcare professionals, combined with input from machine learning, the software can give an accurate and prompt diagnosis of common conditions as well as provide treatment options.
Even though the child may be examined remotely through an internet connection, the online doctor can still send prescriptions to the child's caregivers through an app for parents which is scanned at the pharmacy.
By putting the power of healthcare in the hands of the people who engage with some of New Zealand's most vulnerable children, the iMOKO app has the potential to prevent further complications and possible hospitalisations caused by untreated health problems by identifying them early and ensuring regular health checks for children.
Currently providing basic healthcare to more than 7000 children in 120 schools around the country and with plans for further growth, iMOKO is just one New Zealand digital program being piloted, with others including Third Age Health for aged care support and SmartHealth online for Waikato DHB residents wanting access doctors remotely.
The age of remote, digital medicine is starting to provide solutions for many at risk communities while recognising that the emotional and cultural needs of a patient still require personal interactions.
With technology in our pockets, access to digital doctors is a step many busy professionals look forward to for less serious medical conditions, and in turn these tech solutions could help to alleviate the pressure on the healthcare system freeing up resources to allow personal contact for those who need it the most.