Are doctors office appointments becoming a thing of the past?

 

We understand taking your kids to see their doctor may be a pain. So is taking your car into the mechanic, waiting for the cable guy or going out for groceries. There are other things you’d rather be doing with your time. Can a quick phone call substitute for a doctor visit? Americans make 1.2 billion visits a year to doctors, and an estimated 250-400 million of these visits can be handled remotely through telemedicine. Telemedicine is a modern-day version of the doctor’s house call. With your smart phone or tablet, you can find a convenient way to access quality medical care. The industry of telemedicine is at a tipping point, expanding far beyond interactions between physicians and patients into entirely new ways to deliver healthcare and practice medicine. At its core, telemedicine is best known for helping physicians get in touch with patients who find it difficult to make their way to the hospital or doctor’s office for a visit because they are not physically able to or reside in hard-to-reach rural areas. Patients now have the opportunity to connect with physicians via telemedicine instead of traveling hours to receive care, or worse, not receiving any care at all. Patients are increasingly taking more control over their care, so why not make it easy for them? If you don’t provide your patients with a convenient and secure way to access their doctors, they may go elsewhere. By leveraging tools such as a telehealth platform, you can allow your patients to request virtual visits and manage their own digital health data, at both your convenience and theirs.

Although, Telemedicine seems revolutionary to some, others are resistant to implement this, questioning its effectiveness. They argue that you may get treated without having to leave your bed, but what kind of care are you getting? Telemedicine in this form is just the further depersonalization of medicine. Would you trust an anonymous doctor who is seeing you and listening to you via a bad Skype connection to determine whether you should seek urgent care right away or if it’s just a cold? What is this doctor’s level of experience and what are his credentials?  Is this doctor even licensed to prescribe medicine in your state or will you be paying nearly $100 out-of-pocket to be told to follow up with a physician in person anyway? With this resistance, it seems that telemedicine can work effectively in a practice where the physician and the patient have a strong and trusting relationship – the physician knows the patient and their health history so well that both the physician and patient can be confident of a video-based/phone diagnosis. It can be a useful tool for follow-ups, where a detailed physical exam isn’t needed.

 

All this being said, at the end of the day telemedicine doesn’t allow a clinician to really examine a patient, look in their ears or even assess whether their vital signs are normal. The growing shortage of primary care doctors in the United States also means that many patients may have to travel further to access medical care, where they may experience long waits, all for relatively minor ailments. This inconvenience forces them to take additional time from work, lowering productivity. Easy access to virtual care telemedicine, on the other hand, ensures patients receive the necessary treatment sooner. So what does all this mean? Is telemedicine good or bad? Is it good for some types of patients and not others? Is it better suited for certain specialties? Is there a difference among the many types of technologies? As this trend grows in popularity, more research studies are being done to explore into how truly beneficial this type of care is and how effective remote diagnosis is to patients. 

What do you feel about this? Is this right for your practice? Seems only time will tell, is this a substitute for genuine in person medical care? That is the question.