People crave one-on-one interaction. It’s a fundamental part of who we are. It’s the reason relationships are so important in our lives. You could have 20 friends, but at the end of the day without someone special who you can communicate with one on one you’re going to feel alone and all the friends in the world may not seem enough. It’s also why doctors’ appointments are so valuable. You can finally connect with someone freely. That’s why doctor-patient relationships are the foundation of medicine. If your patient can’t trust you then you’re not a good enough doctor despite all the medical knowledge and skills you may have. Patients are often just looking for someone to talk to without fear of judgment or betrayal. It’s also why lots of people prefer to go see their physician alone. It’s not just about confidentiality, but because there are things you would like to say to your doctor that you wouldn’t be comfortable saying in front of anyone else.
Sometimes it’s important to be able to reach your doctor outside the office. If you have a question or concern that you need to express it won’t really make sense to you to book an appointment and wait a long time just to see your doctor for five minutes and then leave. That’s where telemedicine comes in. It can provide a more one on one experience between doctors and patients. It has many benefits, but at the same time you can’t expect it to replace traditional doctor visits completely. In person contact is still essential in medicine and without it there won’t be adequate healthcare provided.
Telemedicine is simply using electronic means to provide medical assistance to patients. With new advancements in technology and internet these days it’s almost impossible to turn a blind eye to telemedicine. If you have technology that can make your life as well as your patient’s life easier then you should use it. The first uses of telemedicine as we know it now were to reach people who were present in remote areas and were inaccessible. Now even NASA uses telemedicine to reach astronauts and those at the International Space Station to provide medical assistance to them when required. Before a group of astronauts leave for the International Space Station their medical needs are assessed and items are prepared for them so they can take them to space. Before leaving they’re also trained on how to use these tools, instruments, and medications given to them. Once they’re in space and in need of any medical assistance, telemedicine is used to allow them to communicate with physicians here on Earth who can build on the knowledge and training the astronauts received before leaving.
Another use of telemedicine is consulting specialists. If you, as a family doctor for instance, need a cardiology consultation you could simply attach echocardiography images and results through a telemedicine app and the cardiologist you’re sending them to will receive them and reply. This could be done live if both you and the specialist are online at the same time or with a little bit of delay if the other doctor is offline then they’ll get what you sent them when they log in. Another way doctors can benefit from telemedicine is by receiving training through these apps. A senior doctor could observe a junior physician during his or her interactions with a patient in order to give feedback later on. It should be noted that a patient should consent to this and be informed of it happening.
How do patients benefit from telemedicine though? We talked about how people love and prefer one on one interaction and telemedicine can provide just that. You can use telemedicine to video chat with your physician or simply text them. If you have a concern or a question but you don’t think it’s worth a visit to your doctor then you can use telemedicine to express your thoughts to your doctor. A physician could dedicate an hour or two each day just for communicating with patients online. Of course it would be impossible to always be available or else the patients who visit the office will end up being neglected, but one or two hours per day won’t hurt.
Doctors have disagreed on whether or not using online means to communicate with patients is beneficial. Some of them think it takes away from the overall medical experience and that you can miss things that you would normally be able to see during a personal visit, while others believe it helps bonding with patients and creating a stronger relationship. The truth is that the vast majority of patients wish they could communicate with their doctor online through email or other methods. At the end of the day doctors should find ways to make patients comfortable and if that’s what patients want then it’ll obviously put them at ease.
If you’re constantly communicating with your doctor and he or she keeps responding then you know they care about you and your well-being. This is definitely beneficial for your health and your overall relationship with your physician. Patients will start feeling cared for which can have a positive outcome on their health and improvement. On the other hand if you keep trying to reach your doctor via email or other telemedicine apps but they don’t respond then automatically you’re going to think “well they don’t have the time for me, maybe I should look for a doctor who does.” I’m sure that’s not something any doctor wants, not just because of the financial aspects of this but because it’s important for doctors to convey and show their patients that they care.
Despite all the benefits and additions to healthcare telemedicine can provide, it’s in no way a substitute to patient visits. First of all, it’s not a good idea to communicate with a patient via telemedicine if you’ve never seen them before and don’t have their health record. There’s simply too much to be missed and it will be impossible to make an accurate assessment of their health and condition simply via telemedicine. Telemedicine is also not a substitute for physical examinations. If you need to examine a patient or even observe something on their skin for example you shouldn’t do it via video chat. If you think a patient needs an ultrasound then call them in and perform it. There will always be areas of medicine where direct in person contact between doctor and patient is essential and nothing can replace that.
As a physician you should know and differentiate between when telemedicine is appropriate and when it is not. If a patient is on a new drug you prescribed and starts suffering from a side effect and contact you about it you can reassure them that they have nothing to worry about if the side effect is a benign one. If a patient is worried that they missed a dose and are wondering what to do next you can simply answer that via telemedicine. Does it really make sense to call a patient into your office and take time out of their day just to tell them to take the next dose of their antibiotic regularly?
If a patient contacts you and tell you they’re complaining of severe chest pain, will you tell them to stay calm and to take a certain drug? Well of course not. You’re going to have to call them in or possibly direct them towards a hospital to make sure that their chest pain isn’t of cardiac origin.
When and whether or not to use telemedicine will rely on a doctor’s experience and judgment. Nonetheless it’s still a very valuable tool to have that can put lots of patients at ease. Some patients may never even need to use it, but just knowing that they can contact and reach their doctor whenever they need him or her can be very comforting.