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TECHNOLOGY

Will video kill the medical office visit?

In a world of ever-advancing technology, “the doctor will see you now” has taken on new meaning.

Video conferencing allows patients to consult with physicians without leaving home. Physicians, meanwhile, have the advantage of treating routine illnesses without involving practice staff or tying up examination rooms and other facilities.

For both parties, it seems to be a win: a time-saving, expedient form of medical care.

Online options for patients

The benefits of virtual office visits have led many health insurance providers to cover such treatment. Financial reimbursement has, in turn, created demand for services—and there appear to be no shortage of patient options.

Among the online resources offering remote physician consultations is InteractiveMD, which accesses a patient’s electronic health records and then connects a patient with a licensed doctor via video conference, using a webcam. Phone consults are also available. At its site, InteractiveMD provides details about its process, along with a list of common conditions for which physicians provide what is referred to as “professional guidance” remotely.

StatDoctors is another resource for virtual physician consultations. These consultations are available 24/7/365, with an average wait time of six minutes. StatDoctors offers consults via computer conference, mobile or phone.

MeMD offers webcam consultations with medical and mental health providers. Like InteractiveMD, MeMD provides a list of conditions and ailments its physicians treat. However, the site uses the word “evaluate” instead of “treat.” In addition, MeMD includes this disclaimer: “Patients, please be informed that MeMD is not a replacement for your primary care physician or annual office check-ups. MeMD is not an online pharmacy.”

Taking advantage of the trend

MDLIVE, which offers similar services, also allows health care providers to license its software, Virtual Medical Office 3.0, so that medical practices may offer video consultation services to patients. The cloud-based, HIPAA-compliant, software platform gives physicians access to clinical data from patient medical records, lab results, and in-home telemetry devices, facilitating diagnosis and treatment.

MediSprout, on the other hand, is a HIPAA compliant telehealth SaaS solution specifically for solo medical practitioners, multi-practitioner practices, urgent care centers, hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care facilities. It allows physicians to provide video consultation services to their patients with the goal of improving the delivery of health care. Intended to be complementary, not a substitute for office visits, the product was designed to make follow-up more accessible and personalized.

“It was at times frustrating to hear patients explain how they had to take their day off for a 10-minute appointment that was solely based on verbal and visual interaction. It was a misuse of their valuable time,” says Samant Virk, MD, founder & CEO of MediSprout.

In emergency situations, MediSprout allows physicians to provide first aid care while connecting the patient with an appropriate facility. The software also allows for video collaboration between medical professionals when experts’ advice is needed.

In the news

Video consultation has received a great deal of media coverage, including a recent article in The New York Times, which gives examples of individuals who have successfully sought medical care remotely.

Yet, not all physicians consider the trend good news.

Dr. Elaina George, a board certified otolaryngologist, has concerns about the process.

She points to The New York Times article, which mentions a statistic from a virtual care program: “Users are prescribed medication about 40 percent of the time.”

George says the number sounds high, and many of those prescriptions may be unnecessary. She cites a patient, mentioned in the article, who was given antibiotics for what was diagnosed as a sinus infection. “In the example given about the sinus infection, the patient may not have needed an antibiotic at all since most sinus infections are viral,” George says.

Likewise, she questions the diagnosis of another patient mentioned in the article, one with jaw pain. “Under treating a medical problem may cost the patient more with a late diagnosis or a missed diagnosis. For example, failing to treat a dental infection can be a problem since they can rapidly progress to an airway emergency if under treated or if the patient gets an ineffective antibiotic,” George says.

She speculates that the video consultation trend may be driven, at least in part, by profit. And, in her opinion, it does not deliver the same quality of care. “Virtual medicine cannot replace the foundation of examining the patient,” George says.

Nevertheless, U.S. surveys show that patients value the opportunity to “see” a doctor remotely. According to one survey, 64 percent of patients would be willing to see a doctor via video. Similarly, a nationwide survey of physicians finds that 57 percent of doctors are interested and willing to conduct video consultations with patients.

What’s more, the trend appears to be global. Medical Office Manager research finds that physician-patient video consultations are available in India, Australia, and the UK, via medical websites, like iClinic in India. Private practices are also embracing the trend. Woodlands Medical Practice in Oldham, UK, for example, lists video consultations at its website as a patient option.

Note: Medical Office Manager does not endorse any websites or products mentioned in this article. They are provided for informational purposes only.


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