"When you do a telemedicine visit, you don't do a proper physical exam."
Mikhail Varshavski, Celebrity
Telemedicine is a way of medical consulting via text, email or video conference.
It gives patients much more flexibility since they do not have to attend a doctor’s office in person.
Instead, they can have a call with their doctor during lunchbreak or while they are sitting at home on the couch.
Even though telemedicine has some important advantages, it also implies serious downsides. In this article, the pros and cons of telemedicine are examined.
Through the use of telemedicine, patients get a great level of flexibility since they can attend a doctor’s appointment from wherever they want as long as they have access to the internet. This could mean that you may want to talk to your doctor while commuting to work or after work when you are lying on your porch.
Thus, telehealth could be a tool to improve your level of flexibility since you will be able to join those virtual appointments from basically everywhere you want instead of having to attend a doctor’s office in physical form.
Telemedicine is also much more convenient for many people compared to attending a doctor’s office. You do not have to commute and get stuck in traffic jams for attending a doctor’s office but could rather use this time for other more enjoyable tasks.
Especially if you have kids, you know that your time is quite valuable and that you have to use it in an efficient manner to get everything done.
If you are attending a doctor’s office, chances are that you sit in the waiting room with people who suffer from the flu or other diseases. You might infect yourself with those diseases as well if you have to attend a doctor’s office in physical form.
However, by using telehealth communication channels, you are not at risk to infect yourself at all since you will never have to attend the doctor’s waiting room at all.
You can also save plenty of time if you attend a virtual meeting with your doctor rather than to have an appointment in physical from. If you attend a regular appointment, you often have to wait a quite long time until the doctor will be ready for you. By using telemedicine, you can reduce the waiting time.
Moreover, even if you have to wait a little bit, you could do other things like washing your dishes or doing the laundry and use your time more efficient compared to waiting in a doctor’s office.
Telehealth is also a quite promising technology, especially for rural areas where people often do not have proper access to doctor’s offices and hospitals. These people often have to drive quite long distances for the next medical institution in order to get examination and treatment.
Thus, especially for those remote areas, telemedicine can be a quite convenient and effective tool to save time and resources. This is especially true for minor health issues which only need a certain level of consulting but no significant hospital treatment.
Telemedicine can also be regarded to be more efficient compared to regular doctor’s appointments regarding various aspects. Since people do not have to attend in physical form, they can use the time for other things. For instance, you could even make dinner while talking to your doctor and use your time in the most efficient manner.
Moreover, you can save time for commuting to the doctor’s office by using telehealth consultation instead. Thus, the technology behind telehealth can lead to more efficient treatment practices, which both benefits patients as well as doctors.
Especially in remote rural areas, there is often also a shortage of qualified doctors and specialists.
Through telemedicine, it is now possible to reduce this shortage since people are free to talk to doctor’s thousands of miles away from their home and to get proper examination for all kinds of diseases.
Thus, telehealth could be a great technology to fight future doctor shortages in many areas of our planet.
Through the use of telemedicine, it is also possible to treat a higher number of people on average. Especially for minor issues, doctor’s do not have to spend plenty of time but could rather prescribe the standard drug in order to mitigate patients’ problems. Thus, especially in areas where there is a shortage of doctors, telemedicine may make it possible to treat more patients per day.
Since telemedicine is mostly done through video or audio calls, it is possible to share information much easier with other doctors. For instance, patients could speak to two doctors at the same time if they have special issues which require the treatment of more than one expert.
Moreover, the video conference could be saved in an archive where it could be watched again by other doctors or also by lawyers if there were some issues later on.
For some medical issues, there are certain experts which are much better than others. However, it is possible that those experts are hundreds or even thousands of miles away from your home.
Through telemedicine, you could still make an appointment with those doctor’s in order to get a first impression about what to expect regarding your treatment.
By talking to those experts first, you could avoid high travel expenses in case you do no longer want to get this kind of treatment.
Thus, apart from the actual treatment costs, also the consulting costs may be much lower due to a significant reduction in travel expenses.
Through the use of telemedicine, especially the costs for minor health issues could be significantly reduced for patients. For instance, if someone just got a scratch on his leg, the doctor could prescribe him a balm in just a few minutes and that’s it. The patient just has to collect this balm from the pharmacy and is good to go.
Some patients may also be lazy and do not want to attend the doctor’s office in physical form. Thus, for those kinds of patients, telemedicine is great since they do not have to take any efforts but can rather sit on the couch while talking to their doctor. Thus, people are more likely to get medial assistance if telehealth technology is available, which could save plenty of consequential costs in the long run.
Doctors could also greatly benefit from the introduction of telemedicine. Since many doctors are still not experienced in the digital world yet, there is great potential for doctors to get a competitive advantage in the market right know.
The demand for telemedicine is huge and doctors could vastly increase their profits by offering those kinds of digital services.
Even though telehealth has many advantages, there are also some issues related to it. For instance, people become more sensitive to their privacy since there had been plenty of scandals regarding the sharing of data in the past.
Thus, people may mistrust telemedicine since they fear that their data may end up publicly and that other people may be able to view their diseases or health issues. Therefore, it may be hard to convince people about telemedicine due to privacy issues.
Hacking and data theft may also be another significant downside of telehealth. Since many electronic systems are vulnerable and unprotected against hacking, people may lose their sensitive information to third parties who might try to sell this data. Large amounts of personal data are quite valuable and are traded at high prices.
Thus, some doctor’s offices may also not be able to prevent this kind of data theft and sensitive client information might be lost to third parties.
Technical issues can also be a significant problem related to telehealth. Imagine you get quite sick and need urgent assistance of a doctor. However, in case of technical problems, you might not be able to get proper treatment since the telecommunication systems may not be working.
Thus, it might be dangerous to solely rely on telemedicine. This is especially true in areas with a bad internet connection since the telemedicine system might get overcharged and may break down on a frequent basis.
One of the biggest disadvantages of telemedicine is that a physical examination of patients is not possible. For instance, the doctor will not be able to draw blood or to examine your pulse or your blood pressure through the use of telehealth.
Thus, even though telemedicine might be suitable for a first impression, for further examinations, it will be necessary for serious health issues to attend a doctor in physical form.
Technology progresses on a quite fast pace. However, many people have not adapted to those new opportunities yet. The problem of digital illiteracy becomes increasingly prominent. Especially older people do not want to adapt to those new forms of technology and also many doctors may refrain from doing so.
Thus, a high number of doctors might simply decide not to introduce telemedicine and rather rely on old school methods since it worked for many decades and they might see no reason why they should make efforts to progress.
Since it is so convenient, some people may also use telemedicine too often. People may decide to consult their doctor for any minor issue since they do not have to take efforts to attend in physical form anymore.
Thus, people may consult their doctor even if they only have a light cold and doctor’s may no longer be able to focus on people with serious health issues due to that.
For the implementation of proper telemedicine standards, it might be necessary to install specific software and also to train the staff so that nurses and doctor’s will be able to work with this new piece of technology in an efficient manner.
Although telemedicine might be quite efficient in the long run, it may require some time to adapt to the new technology for nurses, doctor’s and also for patients.
Since doctors will not be able to draw blood or to do other physical examinations, the number of incorrect diagnoses may increase dramatically. For minor health issues, this might not be too severe since people may recover anyway.
However, if serious health issues are not treated properly, the number of fatalities and consequential damage might increase dramatically due to the introduction of telemedicine.
Due to a potential higher number of wrong diagnoses, the likelihood for doctors to get sued might increase. We will see in the future how courts may deal with this kind of problem.
Some doctors may also refrain from using telemedicine due to an increasing chance to get sued, which may prevent the expansion of telehealth on a global scale.
Depending on the country and specific regions, there may also be a big difference in the regulatory standards related to telemedicine. While in some countries, telemedicine might be subject to quite strict regulations and the standards for doctors to be allowed to use telemedicine might be quite high, in other countries, there might be quite lax standards regarding telemedicine.
This might become a big problem since doctors from foreign countries who have low standards might offer their services to an international audience. However, patients may not know whether their data is properly protected and may also suffer from a lack of protection in case of wrong diagnoses.
The initial setup and also the maintenance of telemedicine systems might be quite expensive and small doctor’s offices may not be able to afford to introduce telehealth systems. Thus, these doctors may have big problems to compete in the future since an increasing number of people will use telemedicine and doctors who do not have this kind of technology may go out of business sooner or later.
In many countries, telemedicine is not covered by most insurance companies yet. Thus, if people want to get advice through telehealth systems, they have to pay for the appointment by themselves. This might be a big issue since medical treatment is usually quite expensive and telemedicine in those countries will only be available to the rich if there is no coverage through health insurance.
Our current state of technology implies that we will not need a certain fraction of workers anymore since many jobs may be carried out by machines and robots in the near future. This is also true for telemedicine. Thus, some nurses may lose their jobs with the introduction of telehealth systems.
Reduction of infection risks
Telehealth can be quite efficient
Reduction in medical travel expenses
Competitive advantage for doctors
More patients can be treated
Better medical support for rural areas
Can reduce doctor's shortage
High initial costs
Higher rate of wrong diagnoses
Lack of willingness to offer telemedicine
Telemedicine has many important advantages. It is a promising technology which may become the standard in order to get medical advice in the future.
However, there are also many problems related to telehealth and regulators should take great care to set up laws that are suitable to deal with these issues in order to ensure the safety of patients.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master's degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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