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Telemedicine: The Risk of Seeing the Doctor from Home

Medical providers in central Ohio are experimenting with a new method in an effort to make “going to the doctor” a little bit easier. On November 2, 2015, OhioHealth will have some of their doctors begin seeing patients for primary care visits via video and online consultations. What remains to be seen, however, is how this ease of access will affect the quality of care being provided.

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.” In other words, it allows a patient to “see” a doctor electronically, rather than having to physically go into the doctor’s office. This can be accomplished via two-way video, email, smart phones, wireless tools, and other forms of telecommunications technology.

OhioHealth, as well as other providers in central Ohio, has been utilizing telemedicine for years to care for stroke victims at outlying hospitals throughout the state. Now, they are implementing this program for primary care visits. For example, when a patient starts to get a cough or cold, experience back pain, or develop a sinus infection, they can simply go online, fill out an intake form, and schedule an e-visit. From there, the doctor can tell whether this patient can be treated sight unseen, or if a follow up visit is necessary. Here is where it can be problematic: if follow up care is necessary, is a video “visit” enough, or does the patient need to be physically seen in the office?

Consider this scenario. A patient goes online, fills out an intake form indicating she is experiencing symptoms of a sinus infection, and the doctor opts to schedule a video visit. This video visit does not allow a doctor to look inside the patient’s ears, nose, or throat to see if there is any inflammation. Now, the doctor has to rely on what the patient is telling them regarding how severe the pain is to try and determine if this is actually a sinus infection and if antibiotic treatment is necessary.

Such a common example of a routine office visits shows the potentials problems with telemedicine. Only time will tell how effective this new method of delivering medical services will be, but patients should be mindful that there are extreme limitations in a doctor’s ability to provide a thorough examination. If you have experienced problems as a result of telemedicine, please contact us to see if we can be of assistance to you.