Telemedicine—what is it, why does it matter, and what should you be aware of before diving in? Here are telemedicine pros and cons as we see it.
What is telemedicine?
The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) says, "Formally defined, telemedicine is the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status. Telemedicine includes a growing variety of applications and services using two-way video, email, smart phones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology."
For example, imagine your child was playing in a wooded area while on vacation and contracted poison ivy. Your doctor is in Philly, but you're in Maine. You, your doctor, and child conduct a "visit" via Skype so that your doctor can see the rash. She then prescribes medication and other recommendations for easing the itch.
The ATA notes that telemedicine has been on the rise over the last forty years. Today, hospitals, private practices, home health agencies, and other health-related businesses and institutions integrate telemedicine to various degrees.
What are some of the benefits of telemedicine?
Benefits of telemedicine include the following:
- Convenience. For the patient, doctor, facility.
- Wider access. Telemedicine plays an extremely important role when it comes to providing care to people, especially those in rural areas.
- Cost efficiencies. The ATA says, "Telemedicine has been shown to reduce the cost of healthcare and increase efficiency through better management of chronic diseases, shared health professional staffing, reduced travel times, and fewer or shorter hospital stays."
What are some of the downsides of telemedicine?
Critics warn that the foundation on which telemedicine is built—technology—has a downside. An article in Forbes titled "How Telemedicine Can Kill You" points out the computer malfunctions and software glitches could prove problematic—even disastrous.
The article states, "For example, computer glitches can alter medical records with potentially severe repercussions. If your records say you are not allergic to certain medicines even though you are and you are given them during a hospital stay, there is the certainty of suffering and even the possibility of death."
Another issue is hacking, something we all face in this digital age. As the Forbes article reminds us, "When people – or parts of them – are connected and controlled through the Internet, then they can be hacked."
Do the downsides outweigh the benefits?
In our estimation, no. That doesn't mean we should ignore the problems associated with hacking and computer malfunctions. Better security and redundancy can help diminish these potential threats. No system is perfect, but telemedicine has its place.
And that's an important distinction: telemedicine shouldn't replace traditional in-person visits but, rather, complement them. The American Medical Association appears to support this notion. The AMA recognizes the validity of telemedicine, but also believes face-to-face meetings between doctors and patients are still important.
How does telemedicine fit in with concierge medicine?
One of the core tenets of concierge medicine is improved access to your doctor, meaning that patients have better and easier access to their physicians. Concierge doctors accomplish this by embracing technology—emailing, texting, Skyping, and so forth with patients. In addition, many concierge medical practices, like Total Access Medical, embrace electronic medical records (EMRs) since these records enable doctors to treat patients virtually.
At the same time, we also believe in the importance of in-person, face-to-face meetings between doctor and patient. Think of telemedicine as one more "tool" in the concierge doctor's toolbox.