Virtual healthcare a big benefit to some, wrong choice for others

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by Megan Trent

INDIANA (February 17, 2015) – Thanks to the internet and advances in technology, medical advice is becoming increasingly easy to access. Virtual healthcare, including telemedicine, has become popular for some patients and healthcare providers, but experts say it isn’t the perfect fix for every ailment.

The IU Health Stroke Telemedicine program uses high resolution video and smartphone technology to provide more than a dozen hospitals with access to stroke specialists. Dr. Jason Mackey, an assistant professor of neurology at Indiana University, says physicians in rural areas can contact a specialist immediately and get assistance.

“Telemedicine is important in our world because there are so few of us and so many strokes, and not everybody has a stroke in a big city,” says Dr. Mackey.

Being able to have instant access to specialized help is especially essential for stroke victims. After suffering a stroke, says Dr. Mackey, about two million brain cells die every minute that someone goes without treatment. With telemedicine, specialists like Dr. Mackey can now provide instant feedback to multiple patients.

“With a stroke specialist on call, we are able to cover multiple hospitals at one time. So we don’t have to travel to various hospitals; rather that information comes directly to us.”

Virtual healthcare can have benefits for other patients as well. A video conference with a family physician can be convenient if one is out of town or can’t make the trip into the doctor’s office. Doctors can also check up on patients after medical procedures, reducing the number of hospital readmissions.

However, some healthcare professionals have expressed concern about risks of virtual healthcare and telemedicine, saying there are often unseen symptoms that are difficult to pinpoint without a face-to-face exam. Doctors aren’t able to listen to heart, lung or bowel sounds. Also, some fear it could lead to an increase in misdiagnoses and overprescribing. Plus, immediacy has a trade off.

“One concern is just how much we value that face to face connection,” says Dr. Mackey. “When that’s gone, we lose something.”

Dr. Mackey does, however, see the need and value of virtual healthcare growing in the coming years, especially for people living outside of big cities.

“I think this is the future,” he says. “I think people are more and more going to use technology to help patients in remote areas.”

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