After Hurricane Andrew hit, many doctors were unable to get their patients to their appointments, so they turned to the internet.
But as the days passed, the demand for online consultations grew exponentially, and the hospitals were forced to turn to other forms of technology to fill the gap.
Hospitals now rely on remote access to the web, which is a big departure from when patients used to call up their doctors.
“We are not doing anything new,” said Dr. Amy Litt, the head of emergency medicine at Kings County Hospital, which opened its first emergency room on the Web in October.
“We have to have the capability to connect with the patient.”
When the doctors began looking for a way to connect, they saw it as a way for the hospital to expand the online patient population.
The hospital now has more than 3,500 physicians working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
And while many of them are based in New York City, the staff at Kings is spread throughout the country, from rural New Hampshire to remote locations.
Litt said that although she believes that the increased use of the web will lead to more patients being seen by doctors, she doesn’t expect to see any drastic changes to how she treats patients when she’s online.
“I think it will be a gradual transition, but it will become much more common,” she said.
“I think we will continue to see more patients coming through our doors who we know are not getting in touch with us because they are not online.”
While many of the hospitals that rely on the web have already expanded their reach to include remote patients, some are struggling to make the switch to the more affordable Web version of their services.
The biggest hurdle is the cost.
A new study from Georgetown University estimates that remote-access hospitals spend more than $1,000 per hour per patient.
That translates to about $400 per hour for every day a patient is waiting for an appointment, said Beth Sperling, the director of health policy for the New York State Health Department.
When it comes to doctors’ paychecks, it’s a different story.
The average salary of a full-time physician at a rural hospital in the South is about $72,000, according to the American Hospital Association.
For a remote-surgery patient, that’s more than twice as much, and that doesn’t include the additional cost of treating those who have other health issues.
Dr. Paul Fong, the chief medical officer at Kings, said he has noticed a marked increase in patients who are not seeking treatment because of their health problems.
“It’s an issue of not being able to reach the patients you can reach and then not being willing to spend money to reach them,” Fong said.
Fong said the hospital is exploring ways to increase the amount of online appointments, including expanding to more rural areas.
“It’s a way of bringing more people in,” he said.