Telemedicine for All – The Future of Distance Diagnosis

telemedSeventy-nine years and never sick a day in her life…until 79½. Diagnosis was grim: pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to the liver. Stage 4, inoperable. It rang over and over in our ears…unbelievable.

Mom wasn’t a medicine person—barely took an Advil. She wasn’t overly fond of doctors but would go when she was supposed to. So seeking out a second opinion wasn’t going to be an option. We’d be lucky if she’d try chemo. Although the oncologist she went to provided treatment options, we would never know if there was more that could have been done. Too bad we couldn’t get a second opinion; maybe a pancreatic cancer specialist could have reviewed her case—all without leaving her doctor’s office. Who knows if Mom would have gone for that, but it would have been a great option when seemingly all hope was gone.

Luckily, for those who do want it, telemedicine is here and provides patients exactly that option.  Without traveling out of state or even out of your doctor’s office, patients can now connect with specialists anywhere across the globe for diagnosis, treatment regimens, or guidance when the news is, well, unbelievable.

Understanding Telemedicine

The best doctor for your condition might not be in your neighborhood, but rather across the country. Imagine if you live in New Jersey but the thought leader is located in San Francisco. It might not be feasible for you to hop on an airplane, but with the click of a mouse you might be able to gain a diagnosis. Imagine a doctor in Chicago asking a child in Florida to open wide and say “ahhh”—this is happening today because of the new technologies and advanced healthcare networks that are making telemedicine a likely future for patients and healthcare professionals.

But many ask, is this too good to be true? Telemedicine is rapidly growing and is becoming a cost-effective alternative to the more traditional face-to-face way of providing medical care. Although it may take a few moments to get used to speaking to a TV monitor versus speaking to your doctor in person, the assessment can be as real as speaking to your physician face to face.

Patients may not feel comfortable without the typical hands-on, in-office experience they were once used to. However, now telemedicine opens doors to gain the expertise of a doctor who specializes in your disease state—although he or she might not actually be in your “state.”

Distance Diagnosis
How is it done, you may ask? Technology such as cameras and screens are making it affordable and effective for doctors to examine patients without actually being there. More hospitals and medical practices are adopting these techniques, finding that they save money and for some patients work as well as flesh-and-blood visits.

Right now, telemedicine may seem a bit futuristic and perhaps too expensive for the average patient. But historically, technology decreases in price over time, so telemedicine may become a way for patients to get better care for less money. Maintaining a convenient office location with a large support staff may no longer make sense for busy physicians. They may move to a model where they can serve patients in need from anywhere in the world.

In fact, actually seeing a physician face to face may become an optional recommendation determined by your doctor.

The question remains: does or will telemedicine change the outcomes for future patients? Would it have made a difference for Mom? Maybe. We’ll never really know, but it is certainly starting to change medicine for today’s patients. Earlier detection, less upfront guesswork, and leveraging the best resources might just start to shift healthcare in the direction of, well, the patient’s health. Today, patients AND doctors have access to the information and expertise to deliver the best possible treatment…no matter where they happen to be.

So, when the doctor you need is hundreds of miles away, you may just need to pick up the remote, aim it at the flat-screen TV and say “ahhh” into the camera. The good news is the “doctor is in” and your results are only a click away.

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