Telemedicine, also known as telehealth, is a newer technology that has the potential to change the face of medicine. In a nutshell, it allows patients to meet with physicians in real time via telecommunications technology like phone calling and video chatting. Yet even with its many clear advantages, telemedicine seems to be slow to catch on in the world of healthcare. Here is a look at the pros and cons of telemedicine.
Telemedicine helps eliminate the need for a trip to the doctor’s office when a face-to-face meeting is unnecessary. If you need to follow up with your doctor about an ongoing condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, for example, then a phone call or video chat session to discuss medication or lifestyle adjustments could be more than sufficient. Or if you simply need to follow up with your doctor after a laboratory investigation or diagnostic test, telemedicine technology can eliminate the trouble of an in-person appointment.
These types of appointments also happen to be cost-effective, saving time between meetings and allowing physicians to see more patients. Overall, this could work to reduce the cost of healthcare for patients. It’s also of course more cost-effective for the patient to visit with a physician online or over the phone than it is to make a drive to the doctor’s office.
The convenience that telemedicine offers means that it also increases overall access to high quality diagnosis and treatment—especially access to specialists for patients in remote areas. Better access also means better timeliness of care. It also makes getting a second opinion much more feasible. Ultimately, this could make for a healthier general populace—which, after all, is the ultimate goal of healthcare.
Increases patient engagement
Patients are also much more likely to keep their appointments when it’s as simple as logging into a computer to talk to your doctor. This leads to healthier patients, and to patients who are more engaged in their own health.
Success with telemedicine seems to be strongest in the areas of mental health, dermatology, cardiology, and radiology. Still, there are some significant drawbacks to consider.
Requires extra training
Healthcare facilities that do offer telemedicine options for patients must spend extra time and money training their healthcare professionals to use the technology required for telemedicine. It could require an entire restructuring of the IT staff, and it could mean additional staffing requirements, complicating the issue of healthcare staffing.
Reduces care continuity
Many telemedicine programs place patients with random doctors, and this means decreased continuity of care. Doctors who meet with patients might even be forced to make conclusions while having limited access to that patient’s complete medical history. In this sense, telemedicine could lead to decreased quality of care. This “con” of telemedicine could reverse if more doctors embrace telemedicine programs in their practices.
Even with the latest advancements in telemedicine technology, this technology still has its limitations. Video chatting systems can glitch, broadband connections can be poor, and visibility can be less-than-ideal. These limitations can make in-person visits still very much the ideal.