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What is Telemedicine?
According to the American Telemedicine Assosication, 1.25 million telemedicine consultations will take place this year. Telemedicine refers to the practice of evaluating and treating patients using audio-visual technology. Patients and doctors can communicate through video, or a patient can send a pictures. Both physicians and consumers can download applications that connect them with each other.
Where is Telemedicine Offered?
Telemedicine is spreading quickly. Miami Beach hospitalist Ankush Bansal, MD. provides initial visits and follow-up visits remotely, and he prescribes medication based on patient symptoms as well. Dr. Tania Elliot is licensed to practice medicine in 14 states. She reports that only around 7% of her telemedicine patients require direct medical attention from a doctor. Christi McCarron is the vice president of retail health at a five-hospital system in Washington state, and all five hospitals are offering telemedicine services. Sentara Healthcare, based in central Virginia, also participates in the new form of healthcare.
How Does Telemedicine Work?
There are various applications that you can download to your computer or phone that can connect you with a healthcare professional. For example, iDoc24 is a Swedish company that connects patients with trained dermatologissts. Research shows that 70% of their patients treat themselves at home after obtaining advice from a dermatologist. Doctor on Demand is available on iTunes and allows users to participate in video visits with board-certified doctors. One user was between insurance carriers and did not have an inhaler for her asthma. She reports that she utilized the Doctor on Demand application, and she obtained a prescription for an inhaler at 11pm at night.
Praise for Telemedicine
Patients enjoy utilizing telemedicine for the sake of convenience. Traditional visits to the doctor often involve missing half of a day from work. Telemedicine visits can take as little as ten minutes. Telemedicine is also cost-efficient. Doctors charge less for these visits, so those who usually could not afford to go to the doctor can now obtain treatment.
Telemedicine complies with HIPAA laws that protect patient confidentiality. Another benefit that many people enjoy about telemedcine is that they can speak privately with a physician about matters that could be sensitive. Urologist Brian Steixner, M.D. reports that doctors can diagnose many STDs just by viewing a photo and hearing a description of symptoms. People who wish to keep their healthcare private for fear of embarrassment can choose the time and place where they can discuss personal matters.
Criticism and Concern
Those who oppose telemedicine argue that inconvenience and cost aside, there is no way to replace the human element that should exist during a consultation. Doctors cannot listen to chest sounds to diagnose pneumonia over the Internet. A minor cough is one of the first symptoms of heart failure, and a doctor may not be able to catch subtleties such as this via telemedicine.
Telemedicine won’t be going away any time soon. If you choose to visit a doctor via this new service, you may save quite a bit of time and money. You will also be able to assure your privacy if you are inquiring about a sensitive matter such as a possible STD. However, there is a chance that your doctor may miss subtle signs of a larger issue when you are separated by a few blocks or even hundreds of miles.