Will Telemedicine Replace Doctor’s Office Visits?
The coronavirus pandemic has made people around the world rethink how they go about their lives. Employees are working from home, schools take place virtually, restaurants have closed their doors. One industry that has been particularly hard hit is preventative care and primary care facilities. Because doctors could potentially spread covid-19 between patients, most doctors’ offices closed at the beginning of the pandemic. This, however, doesn’t mean patients have stopped receiving care. Telemedicine, consulting with medical professionals via video conference or telephone, has become the new normal. Is telemedicine merely a practice for the pandemic? Or is it here to stay? We’ll look at the good and bad aspects of telemedicine and how it may look in the coming years.
There are many benefits of telemedicine. One obvious benefit is that doctors and patients can be in their respective homes/offices. This means telemedicine increases access to care. Before the covid-19 pandemic, many rural communities relied on telemedicine for their basic needs. This is because there were few doctors in these rural areas and few willing to travel. With telemedicine, patients from hours away can talk to doctors at large institutions with better access to specialists and cutting-edge medicine.
Another benefit of telemedicine is that it saves time and money. Instead of having to drive to the office and then sit in a waiting room, patients log on and instantly have access to their doctor. Both doctors and patients save on gas and time commuting. In addition, telemedicine means doctors’ offices can be smaller and providers spend money on more patient related costs rather than rent.
There is research suggesting that telemedicine improves outcomes for patients. Studies have shown that patients using telemedicine talk to their primary care providers more and go to the hospital less. With less barriers to speak to a doctor, patients take control of their health and work more closely with their physician.
Finally, telemedicine offers flexibility. Instead of taking time off work and finding childcare to go to the doctor, a patient can log quickly from their own home. Patients have more options for scheduling visits and greater access to specialists across multiple hospitals.
Telemedicine has a few disadvantages when compared to traditional healthcare. One of the biggest disadvantages is that certain conditions are hard to diagnose and treat without being in the same room. It is easy to see over video if someone has the chicken pox, it’s harder to tell if they have strep throat. Patients will still need to go into a doctors’ office for some things that can’t be treated and monitored at home.
Another disadvantage to telemedicine is that it has many regulations and industry barriers. Regulations on telemedicine are made by states and can be very different. Some doctors may not know how to navigate complicated legal issues. For example, doctors need to figure out how to keep these virtual visits private so patient information is protected.
Lastly, a big drawback of telemedicine is the technology it uses. Anyone who has a computer or smartphone knows that sometimes technology doesn’t cooperate! Connection issues, hardware and software needs, and bandwidth can all affect an appointment. If a patient doesn’t have a good internet connection, they may cut in and out of a video. How can a doctor diagnose you if they only hear every other word?
Telemedicine has been around since personal computers but only became very widely used during the covid-19 pandemic. Telemedicine will be around to stay but as a supplement to traditional care. Doctors may choose to conduct wellness check-ups, mental health services, and even physical therapy via telemedicine. But patients may still have to come in once a year for a physical check-up.
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