With an aging population, the anticipated explosion of Obamacare patients, and an expected shortage of doctors, telemedicine and online health care could be the innovation that will save health care. Through telemedicine, patients can have easy virtual visits with a doctor via emails, phone, video, or other devices. The question is whether online health care is as effective as seeing your doctor in person.
Scientific American reported a recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggesting that for certain routine illnesses, at least, “seeing” a doctor online could be just as effective as seeing a doctor in person. In the study, patients with sinus issues and bladder infections were able to get a diagnosis simply by updating their medical profiles with a description of their symptoms and conditions. The only noticeable difference was a higher likelihood of getting antibiotics prescribed.
A study in the Health Affairs journal reviewed the effectiveness of the online clinic virtuwell which was started in 201. The virtuwell online clinic diagnoses and treats common conditions such as flu, deer tick bites, and yeast infections. The review of 40,000 cases found that the online clinic reduced costs by $88 per virtual visit compared with the traditional office visit besides saving patients time and inconvenience. 98 percent of patients gave the virtual visit a “would recommend” rating.
MobiHealthNews reported another study from the Journal of the American Medical Association. It describes a successful weight loss program where patients regularly updated their weight, exercise habits, etc. via a mobile device. They would then be regularly coached over the phone based on this data. What makes this study interesting, according to its researchers, is that while other PDA studies have included “intensive in-person treatment sessions,” this study “demonstrates that a mobile intervention can be a substitute for expensive, in-person sessions.”
Do Virtual Doctor Visits Compromise Health Care?
While the number of online health care services are growing, some practitioners are still skeptical of its effectiveness USA Today reports. Dr. Mohamad Sidani, professor at Meharry Medical College, is one doctor who is concerned about information that may be lost through phone and email. He says the only way he would practice telemedicine is if the information were relayed to him by a nurse. He emphasizes,
“face-to-face interaction is crucial for adequate diagnosis…. If it is over the phone, I won’t be able to see that patient’s face…. It can tell a lot about whether he is in severe pain or distressed or not. And the way he is moving. Body language is very important.”
Source: Dial-a-doctor, online services cut office visits – USA Today
Video conferencing would seem to be the logical solution. Dr. Rakesh Khatri, Medical Director of the Stroke Care Now Network, has practiced telestroke in settings that were both equipped with video and those without. He notes that even though it may be more expedient to have information relayed to you by a nurse or doctor, when you have a direct video connection,”you can actually talk to patient. It’s a more personal touch…you can look and connect. Sometimes when you are unsure of findings, seeing the patient lets you make surer decisions.”
With the potential to make health care more accessible and less expensive without sacrificing quality, online health care looks to have a bright future!
- Online Physician Visits Could Be As Effective as In-Office Visits (Modern Medicine)
- 3 Regulatory Barriers to Telemedicine (MedCity)