Telemedicine: a Q&A with Dr. Darren Sommer

As part of Metova’s ongoing research into the technology and trends that are shaping our world, we sat down with Dr. Darren Sommer, founder and CEO at Innovator Health, to learn about Telemedicine, and ask his opinion on findings from Metova’s August 2020 consumer survey on Telemedicine.


What is telemedicine? Telemedicine is the use of technology to deliver medical services. Providing patients access to medical services where they might not otherwise be accessible. (to view a short video with Dr. Sommer giving more detail on the history of Telemedicine, click HERE)


How can telemedicine benefit doctors, nurses and medical professionals? Telemedicine can open up practice opportunities to medical professionals giving them new career opportunities. 


Marion Renault at the Atlantic recently wrote: “Today, telehealth has resurrected the house call more than a century after it fell out of favor.”  Do you feel comparing Telemedicine to a house call is accurate? Yes, I think it is more true than they even realize. The transition away from house calls to the office came from a desire of the physician to be more efficient and generate more revenue. It was not something done to improve patient care. Now, once again, care is being brought back to the home. There is still a lot of work to be done to allow for gathering of clinical information like vitals or for the physician to listen to heart and lung sounds, but this will be a steady trend back to care in the home over the next few years.


What are some common misconceptions about telemedicine? The most common misconception is that a telemedicine visit cannot be as good as an in-person visit. Clearly, there are physical limitations when we use technology, but that does not mean there are not thousands of medical services that can be offered that meet, and in some cases, exceed traditional practice. 


Are there new technologies that are making telemedicine a more viable alternative to in-person visits? Eye tracking, 3D imaging, IoT sensors for items including temperature, pulse and movement are all coming into play in making a perfected telemedicine experience. Our own platform allows the patient to experience the physician in their life-size form, in 3-D, and with direct eye contact. Many patients who have received care on the IH platform remark that it is as if the physician is there in the room with them.


Are there technologies, still under development, that will further enable or even transform telemedicine in the not so distant future? Yes, the industry is constantly innovating in new ways to not only allow a distant physician and patient to communicate, but to improve how they can do this in the most personal and comprehensive way possible. We are also working on ways to make the technology simpler to use to further expand its adoption. (to view a short video of Dr. Sommer, and Metova VP of Engineering, Scott Davis on technologies, sensors, and even smartwatches that could assist with telemedicine, click HERE)


According to a July 2020 Metova survey of over 1000 U.S. citizens, 81%, if given the option, would choose telemedicine for their next consultation. What do medical practitioners need to do from a procedural and technological standpoint to accommodate this preference? Providers need to first identify what specific services they want to be able to offer to their patients. With the list of services, they then need to think about how those services can be offered and meet the same standard of care as an in-person visit. If they can do the standard of care, then they are ready to go. If they can’t meet the standard of care, then they either shouldn’t offer the considered service or work with a partner like Innovator Health who can help them with novel ways to approach the considered service line.


According to the July 2020 survey, of those who had a telemedicine consultation in the past, the most common issues were around connectivity, display screen size, and the inability to clearly show the doctor a problem on-screen. How can technology overcome these issues and what can medical providers and patients do to optimize their telemedicine experience? For many the ubiquity of high-speed internet, whether it be broadband or even 5G, is helping to solve connectivity issues and glitches. Also, screen resolution, camera resolution, microphone and speaker quality are all improving across the board on devices from tablets to home computers and laptops. For patients and doctors who have access, systems such as Innovator Health uses a 55” screen to deliver the life size experience. This changes everything and makes it feel as if the doctor is in the room. IH supports the hardware with a low-bandwidth connection that delivers crystal clear audio and video. The last thing you want to do is have a poor quality video encounter when you’re talking about someone’s medical issues.


The Metova survey also shows that 97% say that at least some of their past doctors visits could have been done virtually. Are there certain types of medical needs that are best suited to telemedicine? Any that, as of now, are not well suited, or that present challenges? Clearly anything that involves a hands-on procedure is not going to work. As an example putting in sutures, taking out an appendix, or doing a biopsy. Using the appendectomy as an example, there are some aspects of that care that can be done remotely. Consider a pre-op consultation done with a surgeon remotely, followed by a transfer to the remote hospital for surgery. Post-op, the patient can do follow-ups remotely with the surgeon. Telemedicine should not be thought of as an all or nothing proposition, but a spectrum of services.


Additional Telemedicine and Telehealth video Content:

To view a short video of Dr. Sommer and, Metova VP of Engineering, Scott Davis on Contact Tracing technology in the fight against COVID-19, click HERE

To view a short video of Dr. Sommer speaking on the issues of  self-diagnosing (‘Googling it’) in the era of COVID-19, click HERE