BOSTON – Travelers book plane tickets online, bank customers can check their accounts at any computer, and busy families can grocery shop online. Someday, even doctor visits could be among the conveniences offered via the Internet. Researchers considering the feasibility and effectiveness of virtual doctors visits report that
, according a study published in the May issue of the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare.
Of course this won't work for everything. Blood samples and other tests will still need to be done in some visits. But the sample taking could be decoupled from the time of the consultation in some cases. Go to a store front that has a nurse who takes blood, urine, tissue, and other samples. Perhaps stand in front of a machine that takes very high resolution pictures of your retinas, mouth, and other parts. Then video consult with your specialist hundreds or thousands of miles away when the test results come in.
"There is growing evidence that the use of videoconferencing in the medical environment is useful for a variety of acute and chronic issues," says Ronald F. Dixon, MD, an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital and the study's senior author. "Videoconferencing between a provider and patients allows for the evaluation of many issues that may not require an office visit and can be achieved in a shorter time."
We desperately need ways to cut costs. Also, old folks can find it hard to even get to a doctor's office once they become too old to drive. Plus, people in rural areas can find it very hard to find a general practitioner or specialist in driving distance.
The healthcare delivery model in the United States is under scrutiny. Reduced access to providers, rapidly increasing costs and an aging population represent major challenges for the healthcare system. Telemedicine projects, including virtual visits (a patient-physician real-time encounters using videoconferencing technology) are being examined to evaluate their capacity to improve patient access to care and lower healthcare costs.
This study, the largest trial of virtual visits versus face-to-face visits done to date, randomized patients to one of two arms. In the first arm, the patients completed a visit (virtual or face-to-face) with a physician; they then completed a second visit via the other modality with another physician. In the second arm of the study, subjects had both visits face-to-face with two different physicians. All physicians and patients completed evaluation questionnaires after each visit.
Patients found virtual visits similar to face-to-face visits on most measures, including time spent with the physician, ease of interaction and personal aspects of the interaction. Physicians scored virtual visits similar to face-to-face visits on measures including history taking and medication dispensing. Though they were less satisfied on measures of clinical skill and overall satisfaction, those ratings were still in the good to excellent range.
The diagnostic agreement between physicians was 84 percent between face-to-face and virtual visits; it was 80 percent between the two face-to-face visits.
We also need web-based diagnostic expert systems that you can interact with and that can access your full medical history. Get an even better diagnosis than the average doctor can provide.