The Doctor is IN 24/7
Be honest, have you ever self-diagnosed via health information on the Internet? If you answered yes, you are not alone.
According to several Pew research studies, 72% Internet users (and 62% Smartphone users) search for health information online, and 1 in 3 U.S. adults use the web to self-diagnose.
Given the near instantaneous access to a wealth of information, it seems only natural that one would look to the Internet as a first line of query.
There’s only one (not so small) problem—unless you spent the better part of 10+ years getting trained to be a doctor—you’re not a physician! A rather obvious point to make, but every time we go online to figure out what ails us (or a friend, family member) we essentially play the role of doctor.
A more pressing issue is the information itself—is it accurate? Has it been vetted by an independent medical board, physician or institution? How can we trust what we find on the wild-wild-web? The short answer—we can’t, or more appropriately, we shouldn’t.
So why do we do it?
Time, efficiency and cost savings are three reasons that readily come to mind. With our overly scheduled lives, many of us are hard pressed to find time to visit the doctor unless we are violently ill or faced with some other emergency. And even if we can set aside a moment to schedule an appointment, the out-of-pocket costs are often weighed and measured against the severity of the health issue.
Enter telemedicine...virtual doctor visits—formally defined by the American Telemedicine Association as the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.
These real-time consultations (online video, email, text, smartphone app) allow physicians to effectively engage and diagnose patients without the hassle of in-office, on site visits. The net result is efficacy with efficiency.
The concept is far from new. In fact it has been around for over 40 years—using various forms of telecommunications to deliver clinical care to remote areas.
What has changed is advances in technology. Improvements in wireless and high-speed broadband connectivity along with increased smartphone use (projected to surpass 2 billion globally by 2016) have effectively removed barriers to on-demand healthcare. And video is emerging as the preferred communication tool for telemedicine—with a bevy of new companies coming online everyday.
A short list of players—variously catering to consumers and physicians—include :
Bottom-line – telemedicine is a rapidly growing component in the healthcare continuum and will serve a pivotal role in delivering optimum patient care for the foreseeable future.
So the next time you jump online to self-diagnosis that seemingly innocuous skin rash, or persistent cough—you might want to put down the stethoscope and consider a virtual doctor visit.