He looked at me through the screen of my mobile phone and asked how I was feeling. I told him I was fine, which was true. This was the kind of regular checkup people my age have from time to time.
But it was my first brush with telehealth, the word to describe remote doctor visits free from the need to confront sick people in a waiting room. It was a rare, pandemic-induced experience.
Or was it?
The novel coronavirus has shut down much of the economy, but it also has forced many of us to keep parts of it going by relying on technology that already existed, but that most of us hardly knew was there.
Like telehealth, telecommuting has been with us for a while, but until a month ago it never caught on, other than to allow workers to remain productive on snow days or when they had mild colds they didn’t want to share with others.
The Brookings Institution says about half of Americans now work from home thanks to the pandemic, which is more than double the percentage who did so, mostly occasionally, two years ago. Researchers Isabel V. Sawhill and Katherine Guyot said people talked a lot about working from home after the attacks of 9/11, but the idea never really caught on, growing by only 2 to 3 percentage points between 2005 and 2015. Now, many of us are being forced to deal with it on a long-term basis.
Our employers already may be thinking about the money they could save by moving to a smaller building and letting people stay this way. They may already be working on ways to manage effectively from far away, and of helping employees counter the emotional side-effects of isolation.
Rasmussen sees the current need for conducting school over the internet as a way to finally unleash forces that push traditional education into the future. Today’s online approach will lead teachers to bring new techniques to the classroom.
“Over a fairly short period of time, this new model will radically reshape schools throughout the nation,” he predicted.
Politico.com recently asked more than 30 thought leaders what permanent changes they see coming from the pandemic. Among the most hopeful were one who predicted an end to political polarization as we unite against a common enemy, and another who said people would begin trusting experts once again. “America for several years has become a fundamentally unserious country,” he said — an understatement.
In the midst of all this, I’m seriously thinking about hiring an interior decorator to help me with a basement office to which, thanks to Zoom, I’ve recently invited various co-workers and even the mayor of Salt Lake City for virtual visits.
Admittedly, this is the kind of column that will be susceptible to ridicule when discovered by future generations. Human beings are notoriously impatient. Change our routines for a few weeks and we expect it to become permanent. Maybe a few months from now we’re all commuting to work, sending the kids to school and rubbing elbows with strangers at sporting events, while stuffing our coronavirus memories in a Book of Remembrance we let gather dust on a shelf.
Or maybe physical exams will become more sophisticated over mobile phones. Maybe the Hollywood Squares layout of Zoom meetings will become second nature in our workday routines.
Maybe, as economist Susan Athey told the Washington Post, “People will change their habits, and some of these habits will stick.”