The floodgates of telemedicine has never evolved and expanded quite so rapidly all because of a virus named COVID-19. Hospitals, doctor’s offices, and clinics have had to scramble to train staff and adjusting services accordingly so.
That’s why the pandemic of COVID-19 is shaping up to be a transformative and life-changing way patients will likely be receiving medical care from now on.
If there’s anything we’ve learned from the coronavirus crisis, was the necessary transition to telemedicine for ongoing supportive medical care many patients require.
Not only has this allowed a continuity of care between health professionals and their patients, but it nixed the viral spread by keeping patients safe at home and out of medical clinics. Because of this success, it likely will result in a new normal mode of healthcare here to stay.
Beginning approximately10 years ago, before COVID-19 reared its ugly head, telemedicine had already arrived. With the vast telecommunications technology we have at our fingertips, it was bound to become an important part of the American healthcare infrastructure.
Telemedicine simply made sense.
My expertise trained in robotic prostate surgery, is a perfect example of using medical surgical technology enabling me to perform a complex prostatectomy from a distance. The da Vinci Surgical System is a less traumatic and minimally invasive prostate cancer treatment that I use.
Sitting approximately10 feet away from the patient, I control the micro-surgical robotic instruments using a device with precise hand movements. Not only do my patients have an improved patient recovery and outcome, but during times of a viral pandemic, this distance significantly reduces direct patient contact with less risk of contracting the infection.
However, not every patient can or should be seen virtually and there will always be a need for in-person visits. But for minor health issues or for routine ongoing checkups, this is another avenue health care professionals can utilize for good patient care. Patients can literally stay at home and have remote consultations or "virtual visits" with their doctor, anywhere in the world.
And as our world has becomes more reliant and receptive to wearable health monitors, computers, and video, doctors are discovering for some patients, they can evaluate, diagnose, and treat without them physically being present in their office.
Pros and Cons of Telemedicine
Whether you’ve had the experience of a virtual visit or not, everyone will form their own opinion of it. Telemedicine is not a one size fits all or is even meant for everyone. Depending on circumstances, there will always be times necessary of seeing your doctor in person, which I still believe is best. However, telemedicine does offer several key advantages along with some downsides making it a technology unsuitable for some:
Here’s a look at the pros:
- Convenience — Without a doubt, telemedicine is convenient. You save travel time and long wait times spent sitting in a waiting room surrounded by other sick people.
- Increased Rural Access — In rural areas across the U.S., there is a critical shortage of doctors. Often these patients have to travel far distances for medical care lacking in their area. Telemedicine has a unique ability and capacity to increase medical services to these patients alleviating travel while receiving timely and quality medical care.
- Cost and Efficiency — Doctors often charge less for a telemedicine consultation compared to an in-person visit. A telemedicine consult may cost $40 to $70 compared to $130 to $180 for seeing the doctor face-to-face. In addition, telemedicine allows doctors to efficiently and closely monitor patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Second Opinions — Telemedicine allows a far-away specialist to evaluate your MRI, X-ray, or other scans and tests. This will help patients who want a second opinion, as well as doctors who want to consult with experts on complicated cases.
Despite the wide range of potential benefits, telemedicine still has its share of downsides:
- Inadequate Assessments — When consulting your doctor online you don’t get a physical examination. Certain non-verbal cues might still slip through the cracks. Your doctor must rely on your own descriptive abilities instead of his or her own expert touch. At worst, this could lead to an improper diagnosis.
- A Depersonalized Experience — Telemedicine may be more impersonal than a face-to-face visit with your doctor. A good doctor-patient relationship is characterized by trust and intimacy. Patients often bring up issues during a doctor’s visit that go beyond their immediate health problems.
- Electronic Defaults — Telemedicine is only as reliable as the electrical current that keeps it running. If your Internet connection is disrupted, your session will stop completely. Technical problems could complicate your online consultation or remote monitoring.
Making The Most of Your Telemedicine Appointment
For many of us, having a telemedicine appointment can be a stark contrast to what we’re used to. That’s why, if your doctor is going more towards this type of visit, you need to be prepared beforehand to get the most out of the virtual visit:
- Check with your doctor’s office to see if telemedicine visits are available. Ask if you need to set up an account or install special software on your computer, tablet, or phone. Do this before the visit or an emergency happens.
- Inquire about out-of-pocket costs. Check with your health insurance if it covers this type of visit. Medicare and Medicaid are covering telemedicine visits in full.
- Be familiar with the technology your telemedicine will require before the visit. Trying to figure out technical difficulties during your visit will only waste precious time with your provider.
- Telemedicine visits are usually stricter on time limits. Be prepared by prioritizing your top two or three concerns and know what medicines you are taking.
- If you have diabetes or heart issues, have relevant records on hand such as blood sugar logs, blood pressure cuffs or a food log if you have gastrointestinal symptoms. If a sore throat is your complaint, have a penlight or use your smartphone flashlight for viewing. Also have a thermometer on hand if you are running a fever.
- If you will need to show your doctor a rash or other concern on your body, wear loose fitting clothing.
- Before the visit ends, know the diagnosis, treatment and any follow-up plan. Find out if you need to schedule another appointment (in-person or virtual), fill a prescription, or see a specialist.
The old-fashioned way of meeting with your doctor in person is still the best method for medical treatment. If possible, make this your primary way of getting treated for any health issue. But, if you can’t be physically present due to work commitments or distance, consider a telehealth option. Consult with your doctor or insurance company to find out more information and if telemedicine services are available to you. Also be aware that each state has its own laws and regulations regarding telemedicine.
Dr. David Samadi is Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He is a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City. He is regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., trained in oncology, open, laparoscopic, and robotic surgery. He has vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Read Dr. David Samadi’s Reports – More Here.
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