We know that communication is a breeze. FaceTime and Skype easily allow anyone with access to a smart phone or computer to be face-to-face with anyone in the world by pressing a few buttons. But now, we have doctors on speed dial.
This is happening as close to home as through St. Luke’s and Lehigh Valley Health Network, not just New York City! Wegman’s is beginning to pilot a ‘Doctor on Demand’ program, starting at a few locations, including the Tilghman Street store in Allentown. Right in the pharmacy, you can video chat live with any one of the 1,000 participating physicians anywhere in the country! And its not just in the store; you can download an app to almost any device that allows the same access (for a small fee, of course). Additionally, monitoring devices can be used for high-risk and chronic patients to ensure that any change or deterioration is promptly addressed, both for patients in skilled nursing facilities and at home. Nurses have the opportunity to conference with a doctor hours away while taking vital signs. These advancements allow the expert to be everywhere.
Telemedicine is not as new as we think it may be. For decades, doctors have been communicating via webcams and high-resolution photos to diagnose patients when their specific expertise was needed miles away. The resources saved by not having doctors (or patients) travel can be upwards of 75 percent in some cases. These costs may not be reflected to the individual patients, but can benefit the healthcare system as a whole. Currently, Pennsylvania does not require healthcare providers to cover telemedicine. A bill is currently in the legislative process to change that, making PA the 25th state to reimburse patients for these costs.
What isn’t always addressed are the drawbacks of this distance-medicine service. Talking to a face on a screen is much less personal, and adds to the ‘clinical’ feel of healthcare. Also, brought to mind is the question, “what may the doctor miss if the only sensory functions he can rely on are sight and sound?” Some cases include symptoms that can be widely overlooked if a doctor cannot examine the person in person.
In addition, having doctors available to anyone that can access them from a distance allows certain doctors to be in very high demand. Professionals may take on an overwhelming list of patients, allowing less time and energy to be spent as they spread themselves thin! In making an appointment, we are fairly certain that an expert will be available at the time we need them. Many telemedicine systems do not fully address the availability of a particular expert to be available when needed.
Technology itself can bring with it some unsettling consequences. Leaks and breaches of security are a very real threat. The more information that is shared online, the more information is subject to invasions of our privacy. Providers address this by securing networks, but is it impenetrable?
Regional EMS and Critical Care is focused on a people-oriented, hands-on approach to care. While the benefits and cost efficiency of telemedicine are obvious in many instances, being so detached from a healthcare expert can leave a lot left unnoticed, and many cases still need a doctor in the room with a patient.