4 Unexpected Benefits of Telemedicine

For several years, NPR has been following telemedicine champion, Dr. Ray Dorsey and his team of neurologists at Johns Hopkins University in their quest to make telemedicine widely available. Dr. Dorsey and his associates are even offering free first time video conference consultations for those with Parkinson’s Disease. Recently, NPR interviewed Dr. Dorsey on Talk of the Nation in a nicely done piece on the Promise and Limitations of Telemedicine.

Telemedicine in the U.S. continues to be limited by physician licensure and reimbursement issues, but for those pushing the boundaries, telemedicine offers many benefits. Here are some of the more surprising ones that turned up in the conversations with telemedicine practitioners and patients during the show:

1. Increases honesty with the doctor – It turns out people are more honest with the doctor when teleconsulting from home, especially the elderly.  Comfortable and familiar home surroundings makes people more relaxed and willing to own up to mistakes such as not taking medicine properly, and to ask their more embarrassing questions. If they don’t remember the name of their medication, they can just go and get it. It also turns out that people remember more of what the doctor tells them to do because they are more likely to take notes or to turn up their hearing aid.

2. Boosts the local economyLocavesting and buying local has been a growing movement in the past few years. Ironically, using telemedicine is a way to boost the local economy.  Instead of driving 6 hours away to see  your doctor and getting treated wherever she is located. Any blood tests, imaging, prescriptions the doctor orders are likely to be performed at  the  local hospital or the local pharmacy, thus feeding back into local businesses. As Dr. Karen Edison, medical director of the Missouri Telehealth Network says, it’s an “economic development engine for rural communities.”

3. Enhances clinical support for primary care physicians – It makes great sense to recruit specialists like Dr. Dorsey for telemedicine (since there are fewer of them around). However, research shows that telemedicine may be a bigger boon for primary care doctors. Since primary care doctors are the ones seeing patients face to face, telemedicine becomes a means for them to get fast support from specialists, which means better care for patients. It’s also a means of forming new professional links.

4. Allows people to keep their independence – Many people have mobility issues.  They can’t or don’t want to move because of jobs, family, or a desire to continue living on their own. Telemedicine is all about giving them access to healthcare so they can have that choice.  As Dr.  Dorsey neatly puts it “In the 19th century, medicine developed anesthetics, which…enabled us to operate on the inoperable. In the 20th century, we developed antibiotics, which let us cure the incurable. In the 21st century, we have telecommunications technology, which lets us reach the unreachable.”

What do you think are the most important benefits of telemedicine?

Comments ( 2 )
  • becky
    Davidl Lee Scher, MD says:

    I would like to see the references for your statement about patients being more honest at telehealth visits. I would take issue with the ‘putting money back into the local economy’ statement. While healthcare employs people locally, money going into hospitals or chain pharmacies is not a boon to the local economy. The effect of telehealth on the amount of money shunted from a pharmacy nearer to the physician’s office is not significant. I would agree with the second two points, however.
    In addition, I would add a couple more to the list, Jodi. One is the benefit to caregivers who do not have to take off of work or drive distances to accompany the patient to a visit. Another is that telemedicine will ideally be partnered with such things as EHRs and remote monitoring, which increase the power of the video component of the visit.

  • becky
    anne says:

    Thanks, David for these great additional benefits!
    The first point was from a practicing family doctor who called in during the NPR segment. The second point was made by Dr. Karen Edison, director of the Missouri Telehealth Network in the same segment.

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