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Can Telemedicine Take the Dread Out of a Doctor’s Appointment?

Nobody looks forward to making medical appointments.

Nobody looks forward to making medical appointments.

Most people feel a sense of either resignation or dread when they know they need to make a medical appointment.

You may have the most talented and personable doctor in the world, but the whole process of making and attending an appointment throws up numerous potential problems. Maybe you live in a rural area and will have to drive to a city and cope with traffic and parking before you make it to a crowded waiting room.

If you’re a stay-home parent who needs to see a doctor, you will also need to find someone to watch your kids or pick them up from school, and that’s not always easy. Or you need to schedule time off work, and you don’t know whether you should ask for two hours off, or four.

If you don’t visit a doctor very often, you may dread the pile of paperwork you’ll be required to complete once you arrive. And let’s face it. Getting undressed and telling someone about what may be a very sensitive medical issue can be extraordinarily stressful. Telemedicine has the potential to address most, if not all, of these pain points, and once it becomes commonplace, it should take much of the dread out of medical visits.

The Video Medical Appointment

When most people think of telemedicine, they think of a video conference with a doctor. Indeed, that is how many telemedicine visits happen. Your doctor can see and hear you, and you can make eye contact much as you would in a face-to-face encounter. But with video medical appointments, you don’t have nearly as many stressors as you do with an in-person visit. You can leave the baby in the playpen, don’t have to worry about traffic or parking, and don’t have to wonder how many sick people handled the magazine you read in the waiting room.

People with minor medical complaints can even attend video telemedicine encounters from the workplace, minimizing or eliminating the need to take time off from work. Video telemedicine is the backbone of many of the biggest telemedicine providers, such as Doctor On Demand, Now Clinic, and American Well. These visits can be very much like a personal visit, and a majority of medical complaints can be addressed through video telemedicine. Problems that can’t be adequately addressed via video are still “seen” by a doctor, who can tell you, for example, that you need to make an in-person appointment or head to the emergency room.

Doing Away With Appointments Altogether

Video telemedicine isn’t the only way medical care can be delivered at a distance. A company called Sherpaa delivers telemedicine through text messages, a website, and an app, on the theory that this is how people spend most of their day communicating anyway. A large proportion of medical inquiries are minor. Perhaps you notice a rash while getting dressed and wonder what it is. An interface like Sherpaa allows you to snap a photo of it and text it to on-call physicians who can get back to you about what it is and what you need to do.

Typically what happens with Sherpaa is that after making an inquiry through the app, after 15 minutes or so, a patient receives a response from one of the on-call physicians. Most issues can be resolved solely through text and picture messages, but when this isn’t possible, doctors coordinate an in-person visit to a doctor. All this takes place in the time it takes to make an appointment for a traditional medical visit. Results so far have been encouraging, partly because people tend to be more open when using text-based interaction, perhaps bringing up an issue they would hesitate to bring up in person or via video.

A Wider Selection of Interfaces

The future of telemedicine isn’t one universal type of interaction, but many different types of available interactions that can be used as needed. Ambulances and emergency rooms will still be available, as will in-person appointments. Some medical conditions simply have to be handled in person. But for those common illnesses and conditions that make up most of the average person’s healthcare system interaction, telemedicine offers much more flexibility and convenience, and cost savings can be significant too.

Expect a number of interface options as telemedicine evolves.

Expect a number of interface options as telemedicine evolves.

When telemedicine matures and all the legislative and reimbursement issues are worked out, you should have the option to text a photo of your bloodshot eye to a doctor, who can text you back telling you it’s conjunctivitis and what you need to do about it. Or, in a video visit, your doctor may note your lack of color and noisy breathing and determine that you need to come to the office and have an x-ray to rule out pneumonia. In other words, minor problems can be taken care of much more quickly, while problems that really require an in-person visit can be attended to in the traditional way. Everybody benefits.

Conclusion

Telemedicine can never take over all of medical care, because people will continue to need surgery, blood will still have to be tested, and babies will still need to be delivered by professionals. But when a medical practice can “triage” minor complaints that can be quickly resolved through video or text interaction, waiting rooms and emergency rooms are more likely to be populated by people who really need to be there, and the people who don’t aren’t spending massive amounts of time and money to address something minor. In other words, telemedicine will greatly assist with allotting an appropriate amount of time to medical issues rather than treating one medical visit just like another.

Video telemedicine may be the most obvious use of the technology, but telemedicine is also evolving to include many other commonly used methods of communication, including text. Ultimately, the result should be better, more appropriate care, time savings, monetary savings, and less stress on patients.

At eDrugstore.com, we’re watching the many developments in the field of telemedicine with excitement. For over 15 years, we have been providing customers with prescription medications and know first-hand some of the many ways people can benefit from medical services delivered at a distance.

Don Amerman has spent more than three decades in the business of writing and editing. During the last 15 years, his focus has been on freelance writing. For almost all of his writing, He has done all of his own research, both online and off, including telephone and face-to-face interviews where possible. Don Amerman on Google+