Grand Rounds Blog

How many hours have you spent sitting in the waiting room of a physician’s office? If you’re the average patient, far too many. Your time is precious, and frankly, it’s just plain frustrating to sit and wait when you’re not feeling well. And let’s not forget the hours spent away from your family and missed days of work: this is clearly an area of medicine where physicians and our offices have room to improve.

Over the recent years, we’ve seen a surge of telemedicine offerings, each with a variety of promises. Text a doctor, anytime, day or night! Video chat with a psychologist whenever you’d like! Email a doctor about your child’s medical condition and get a response back immediately! The goal of these telemedicine offerings is to provide patients with information and medical care without requiring you physically visit a doctor’s office. This can be a huge time-saver for patients, especially for minor medical issues. But, there are caveats with telemedicine. Let’s learn how to use telemedicine wisely.

Choose wisely: don’t let convenience outshine quality.
It’s so easy to choose something that’s convenient over something that’s good for us! But like fast food, sometimes what’s available quickly isn’t always of the highest quality. When you’re considering your health, avoid the temptation to choose a service solely because of its convenience factor. It is wonderful that patients can connect with a physician via a variety of formats nearly instantly – email, text, video chat, phone call – but please be cautious about the services from whom you’re seeking medical advice. Not all telemedicine services are able to feature physicians with the highest caliber of medical training. Furthermore, even if you are connected with a wonderful physician, her or she may not be an expert on the medical issues you’re facing. You need a reputable source that can vet physicians for you and who can help pair you with a physician who is an expert in your particular medical condition.

Often, the best physician for you isn’t the doctor next door.
There are many fabulous doctors around. But no physician can be an expert in everything, there’s just too much to know! Any great doctor will agree with this sentiment. The best physician for your condition may live in your hometown, or across the country. Telemedicine opens your options by allowing physicians near and far to consult on your case and to tell you what they would do for you if you were a patient in their clinic.

To make sound recommendations, doctors need the right information.
Some telemedicine services don’t require anything more than a credit card. In such instances, the doctor you’re talking to doesn’t have any of your medical information. How can he make a thoughtful recommendation if he isn’t provided your medical records, or doesn’t have access to your recent test results? Minor medical issues may be able to be handled without much background information or medical records, but the old adage is true: information is power. More information about your medical history, lifestyle, recent lab results, and doctors’ notes can help a doctor make better informed, and more specific, recommendations that are tailored to you. The telemedicine service you choose needs to have this capability (and should help collect your records – it can be a chore otherwise!)

Sometimes, you really do need to see a doctor in person.
Certain information can’t be obtained via telemedicine, at least not yet.
Surgeons need to examine patients to determine what type of hernia surgery to recommend; neurologists need to perform in-person exams to evaluate strength.
Experienced physicians can often tell if a patient is ill by “the eyeball test” – meaning that a doctor can tell, just by looking at a patient, if he or she is ill, even with limited objective data. As a patient, you can gain a lot of information by using telemedicine services. But don’t be frustrated if a telemedicine physician recommends that you visit a doctor’s office; sometimes, you really do need to be evaluated in person.

Utilize telemedicine to make your life easier and your health better. But when doing so, choose a service that is armed with quality physicians and can provide your doctor with your medical history and medical records. And for those instances when you need to be seen by a doctor in person, it’s imperative that you can be guided to a top physician – not just to a doctor who’s most available. Your health deserves the best, not necessarily just what’s fastest.

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