“E-visits,” “virtual doctors,” “telehealth,” and “teladoc” are some of the names that have been used to refer to the increasingly popular online medical care services. The concept of e-visits and online doctors stemmed from a term known as “telemedicine” or “telehealth.” According to the Mayo Clinic, it is “the use of digital information and communication technologies, such as computers and mobile devices, to access health care services remotely and manage your health care.”
According to the WHO, there are principles which are essential to telemedicine:
- It is meant to provide clinical support
- Its intention is to overcome geographical barriers and to connect users who are not in the same physical location
- Its goal is to improve the outcome of healthcare
Telemedicine is not a new subject, and some believe that the idea stemmed from the Royal Flying Doctors Service of Australia (1912), an aeromedical organization which provides primary health care services in rural and remote regions. During the 1960s a telemedicine system was established at the Massachusetts General Hospital by Dr. Kenneth Bird. It linked a medical station at the local airport with doctors who would then supply diagnoses and treatment via a transmission. Those were the first examples of telemedicine, and they paved the way for what we know today.
In a survey commissioned by Royal Philips Electronics, approximately 41% of Americans were comfortable using different websites to check their symptoms, and that 1 in 10 people believes that they would have been “dead or severely incapacitated” if it were not for health information on the internet. The truth is that many people prefer to look online before calling their primary care physicians and while there is a lot of information out there, not all of it is accurate and more importantly, not all of the information applies to us or our conditions.
With the rising rate of disease discoveries, self-diagnosis and the ease of accessibility to technology through smartphones, tablets, and computer, people are taking a more active approach towards healthcare, often seeking prevention and proper treatment if necessary. Luckily, someone saw it fit to take online healthcare to the next level by offering a medical service, unlike anything we’ve encountered.
There are many primary care conditions which can be treated either online or via phone if the doctor asks the right questions and these sites promise improved and efficient healthcare without having to step a foot inside of a doctor’s office. There is increased access to care, lower prices, and less time waiting to be seen by a physician or nurse practitioners. Some of these businesses have a response time of less than 30 minutes, which give new meaning to the words convenient and efficient.
There are many pros to this new and emerging field, some of which have already been listed above. Additionally, online medical services benefit consumers by:
- Reaching patients in remote regions and isolated locations
- Offering 24-hour access to medical care
- Reducing the need for outpatient visits
- Lowering the cost of medical care
- Reducing the spread of infectious diseases through doctor-patient interaction
- Reducing the need for home-bound patient transfers
There are obvious negatives when it comes to this service and most of them are centered around the lack of in-person interaction between patient and medical professional. You won’t be able to undergo surgery, get vaccinated, or undergo various tests and the truth is that it will never equate to or surpass face-to-face medical treatment.
Other areas of concern include:
- The cost of technical training of the medical personnel
- Increased risk of protected medical information being compromised
- Not being covered by some insurance companies
- Commitment to a long-term membership
- Exclusion of certain groups like the visual or hearing impaired
Some businesses are taking steps to address the faults, the most common of which is by installing manned and unmanned diagnostic kiosks. These machines are able to perform routine medical tests including blood pressure, blood glucose, heart rate and ECG, spirometry, as well as height, weight and BMI measurements.
Despite all of these complications and technicalities, online medical services seem to be the ‘new primary care’ go-to and it is a viable option for those who need treatment but do not have the time or the means to get to a doctor’s office. Although there are marked differences between this and the way that things are traditionally done, they do have quite a few things in common. In the same way that doctor’s offices can electronically send your prescription to your local pharmacy, order lab tests, and send results, so can many of these online medical services.
Whether you are sick with the flu or whether you are suffering from a chronic condition, there are services which cater to the majority of the people’s needs. Some of the online medical services even offer specialist referrals and there are a few which allow you to work with an entire team of doctors.
When you go online, there seems to be hundreds of medical services available, some of which tout board certification in addition to being featured on popular talk shows and news sources. It can be difficult to choose one of these sites as many factors need to be considered, the most important being the legitimacy of the online service. If given the option, many people would opt to personalize their health care experience and there are many sites which cater to that need.
It can be hard to find websites which put together comparative lists of these online services, but there are some out there. The good ones provide consumers with an in-depth look at some of the top online medical services available and they also give details about online doctor certification, pricing, and scheduling – all things that are important when choosing a doctor, whether it is online or in person. These websites also gives a list of the pros and cons of each company, and the specialties of the doctors who work there.
Online medical care is one of the biggest breakthroughs when it comes to medical treatment, and within the next decade, it is believed that the field will grow exponentially and that other related areas like telerehabilitation and telepharmacy will be integrated, changing the face of healthcare for the better.