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Not many years ago you had to see a doctor in person to obtain medication, but times have changed.
The internet has altered how we interact with our GPs, how we exercise, eat, socialise, how we learn about and treat our health issues. Describing this social change as a 'rise' is surely an understatement. The vast upsurge in online healthcare has taken the medical world by storm, but our medical institutions are beginning to embrace the tide.
The established healthcare system took its first step on the technology journey by introducing tele-appointments.
With the NHS's increasing workload, tele-appointments were viewed as a way to relieve the pressure of an overcrowded appointment system, because waiting two to three weeks for a routine appointment was (and unfortunately still remains) the norm.
Talking to a doctor over the phone quickly became a popular way to obtain treatment. The NHS's 111 service took over from NHS direct phone advice service that provided an alternative way to obtain professional healthcare advice in non-emergencies and out of hours.
Next came passive health information. Medical bodies founded websites to ensure reliable health information was available to internet users. Internet health information wasn't and still isn't consistently reliable given that anyone can post what they please, but large institutions and public bodies managed to get their messages out loud and clear.
The internet was particularly useful during the foot and mouth epidemic of 2000 and more recent swine flu outbreaks. Doctors were able to urge patients to remain at home if they had symptoms rather than spreading them around a surgery waiting room.
Once technological problems were solved, it became possible to book medical appointments online.
This step towards positive self help enabled people to book appointments at work, and once mobile technology caught up, from wherever they pleased. Appointments became a simple case of logging on rather than waiting on hold for a receptionist. Online options are hugely popular way to manage health.
There's an app for every aspect of health imaginable. From fertility and pregnancy monitoring, calorie counters, fat burners and contraceptive reminders, apps have changed the way we exercise and look after ourselves. A good deal of runners and cyclists use a Garmin to track their progress. It's become a mainstream health gadget and fashion statement that didn't exist a decade ago.
Future apps look set to monitor our lifestyles automatically, such as Ford's underdevelopment car seat system that will detect a heart attack safely, bring the car to a halt and alert medical help.
Online health has reached the stage where we don't need to see a GP in person to order medicine. Online pharmacies have plugged that inconvenient time pressure gap. If you need contraceptives but can't get an appointment, you can order them online. The same goes for 'embarrassing conditions', such as erectile dysfunction, antibiotics for STIs, and the morning after pill. As meds for these issues are available online the family GP doesn't need to be involved. People who were previously too embarrassed to seek help now have options available, which can only be a step forward.
The availability of healthcare information enables patients to take control of their health for the first time. Googling your array of symptoms can lead to unnecessary stress, but it can also save lives.
Apps are capable of saving lives too, although some experts believe they're unnecessary expenditure that panders to a generation unable to care for themselves without intervention. Regulators sometimes remove apps, such as the skincare app that claimed holding the app's lightshow against skin would reduce acne. The app market is monitored to support the general public, although common sense always applies when you're searching out new treatments.
Online medication has recently emerged as large market sector. Black market pills still exist, but large independent pharmacies that offer online consultations and genuine medicines from qualified doctors have made the process safe.
To make certain you're ordering safely from a registered pharmacy ensure it displays the registered pharmacy logo and the common EU logo. A consultation with a qualified doctor before any prescriptions are offered should take place. Yes, you'll pay more but it's worth it to stay healthy. Black market pills don't work and can be dangerous.
Some experts argue that a disjointed medical record will lead to doctors missing out on vital information that forms a whole picture, such as the diagnosis of heart disease, but for the most part the convenience of online health wins over public support.
The future looks set to keep pace with current developments. The world of 3D printing for example is moving to the point where scientists are experimenting with printing bone and living tissue to replace damaged limbs and organs. The 3D market grew by 34.2% in 2014 alone. Currently it's able to offer custom prosthetics such as noses, ear and skin for cancer and burns victims. It's a world away from our previous generation.
Online health looks set to replace our system of doctors, or at the least change how it currently works. It's thought videoconferencing with patients will be the next step forward, which would be of huge benefit to those unable to travel or for those too ill to attend a surgery. Online health will continue to support the populace by pushing information out there instead of waiting for them to come forward individually.
Only one aspect is certain, online health is here to stay. Its journey has only just begun and for a large section of the community this is an essential change needed to accommodate a busy lifestyle that's already dependent on online services. Without a reliable corresponding online healthcare system we might find that our health falls into the 'too hard' category and a reduction in the quality of life awaits us.