But now it may also be an efficient alternative to in person treatment of basic medical problems.
The appointment proceeds similarly to how a face-to-face visit works: the patient describes symptoms and the doctor creates a prescription.
The big difference is that there’s no wait time, no travel involved, and visits can be completed within 15 minutes.
But are such visits getting everything done that an in-person experience needs to?
Better living through high-tech
Convenience is a huge perk of telemedicine
Rather than climbing out of bed when you’re sick or taking time off from work or away from family to travel to a doctor’s office where you burn even more time in the waiting room, most online services only require a few minutes to register, input your health history, and then give you access to care.
Wearable sensors and mobile devices provide diagnostic data that can be archived leading up to your appointment on something as common as your cell phone, or transmitted in real time during the visit.
One of the drawbacks to telemedicine is that the diagnosis is only as good as your image quality.
When examining a sore throat, or looking at a child with a fever or investigating a mole for the potential of skin cancer, even a high res picture can fall short of an in-person examination.
As some doctors put it, there is a “3D-ness” to health issues seen in real life that can’t always be captured by a computer monitor.
Another wrench in the workings is that some online service providers lack consistency in terms of which doctor a patient sees.
Rather than seeing someone familiar with your medical history with whom you have a rapport, you might simply be assigned to the next available doctor.
Speedbumps to progress: Billing and the ER
Billing is also still an issue, as not all health plans and doctors set up to bill for and be paid for virtual visits.
And the one place where virtual visits still just don’t work is in the ER.
The lack of ability to “feel” a patient during a physical exam may make it difficult for doctors to properly diagnose and treat a patient in potential emergencies.
What do you think? Are you excited about the prospect of virtual visits as a solution to the nursing and doctor shortage? Are you already involved in them? Any stories of how such visits have worked or not worked for you?
Weigh-in via the Comments section below.
More of the pros-and-cons of virtual visits: