Telemedicine isn’t really new. Innovators started talking about it nearly one hundred years ago. In the 1940s, radiologists sent x-ray images via telephone between two towns in Pennsylvania, the first electronic transfer of medical records. The University of Nebraska set up the first two-way teleconferencing for doctors in the 1960s. Virtual visits became a part of life in some rural areas, saving patients hours of travel time to get to specialists.
Now virtual visits are becoming common. In the world of Covid-19, your doctor would prefer to see you on a computer screen rather than in person. And there are very good reasons.
1. It’s safer – for both you and the medical staff. Sitting in a doctor’s waiting room exposes you to sick people, who are coughing, sneezing, and breathing all around you. The waiting room is usually a small area, often crowded. Your chances of becoming sick after a doctor’s visit are excellent. In addition, you may be exposing the receptionist, nurses, MAs, and doctors to an infection that hasn’t shown any symptoms yet. Many illnesses have a latent period without symptoms before you get sick. If you stay home, you cannot infect anyone.
2. It saves money – for both you and the clinic. You get to sit in your own comfortable chair in your own home. There is no need for gas, bus money, parking, or babysitters. You don’t have to take time off from work. The clinic needs fewer staff when the patients are being visited remotely. Less supplies are used. Everyone saves.
3. It saves time – especially for you. You don’t have to be at the doctor’s office at 2 PM. You don’t have to start getting ready at noon. You don’t have to leave work. You don’t have to drive half an hour or more and then search for a parking place. You don’t have to sit in the waiting room because the doctor is running behind. You can talk with your doctor while you’re at home or at work. The convenience is marvelous.
4. It improves patient care – When you have easy access to your doctor and nurses, your health tends to improve. Studies have shown that compliance with the treatment plan is better with virtual visits, possibly because patients feel more in control of their healthcare. Hospitalizations are fewer as well. When you can get your questions answered, you are more confident about caring for yourself and generally more capable. Patients also seem to like this modern version of the house call, finding that their needs are met.
5. It improves quality of care – The doctor is able to spend more time listening to you because the visit is recorded. In some ways, this improves the doctor patient relationship. Many patients, especially those with chronic diseases, prefer this method of interaction.
While virtual visits are going to play an important part in patient care, they will not replace the need for regular office visits entirely. Doctors cannot do a physical examination via computer link. Blood pressure and other vitals signs, blood sugar levels, and other physical measurements can be obtained at home and transmitted to the physician, but the doctor has to reach out and touch you at times in order to make a diagnosis.
Making diagnoses is the difficult part. When the problem is a rash or something simple, a virtual visit will do well. For more complicated problems and injuries, an office visit may be needed. For the elderly and for patients with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, COPD, and heart disease, routine visits are ideal for probably three out of four visits. But your doctor has to see you in person at times. You cannot listen to the heart and lungs over a computer link as yet.
Virtual visits are the future of medicine. Why don’t you ask your doctor to make a house call?