“It’s for You, Honey. The Doctor is Ready to See You.”

Steven E. North, Esq.

Telemedicine enables doctors or other healthcare providers to deliver medical care, advice and treatment via digital phone, web chat or other electronic means. The practice is proliferating because it facilitates more universal healthcare while also helping to keep spiraling health costs down.

The convenience of telemedicine for patients is undeniable. No travel time, weather not an issue, no long uncomfortable waits in a physician’s office full of sick people.

Some conditions lend themselves to this relatively inexpensive, patient-friendly process for diagnostic, treatment, or follow-up care. Minor non-emergent ailments, lesions that can be photographed and transmitted, or data that can be retrieved from monitoring devices patients wear to record vital signs or heart rhythms, may not require a visit to a physician’s office or emergency room.

The practice of telemedicine, however, does not come without danger to patients and potential medical malpractice litigation for physicians, which is why overreliance on it is not wise. A vague abdominal complaint, for example, might be triggered by a “hot” appendix which, if ruptured, could lead to death in the absence of fast and proper treatment. A hands-on evaluation in conjunction with an MRI or other imaging method is far more reliable in making a time-sensitive diagnosis.

Furthermore, a thorough examination, even a focused one, requires a substantial inquiry into a patient’s history and related circumstances which may easily be overlooked in a brief telemedicine interaction. Prescribing medicine with only a visual link to a patient can result in conditions being overlooked or mistreated, particularly in the absence of an accurate past history that is recorded and preserved.

While patients are happy to be treated via electronic examination and consultation, its simplicity may diminish a patient’s follow-through. “I want to see you in 10 days,” is far more compelling than, “Call and let me know how you are doing.”