While I grew up long after the family doctor made house calls, for me, the idea of telemedicine was far-fetched at least until the advent of the Internet. Today, millennials and Gen Z’ers are much less likely to have their own regular doctor, often preferring to use walk-in clinics when they are not feeling well. The rapid worldwide spread of Coronavirus has pushed telemedicine to the front burner while imploring physicians young and old to adopt to ‘at-a-distance’ treatment for patients. How have the physicians handled this?
The ones that I speak with mid, even late career, are for the most part very positive about telemedicine in general. Before Coronavirus telemedicine was on the periphery. Over the last 2 months there has likely been more telemedicine practiced than ever before. However, from my medical professional friends I am repeatedly told that while telemedicine offers good utility, it’s not all easy-peasy.
There are agreed positives. Most agree that ‘touching’ the patient is only 5-10% of the things a doctor will do during a patient visit. And the touching does not necessarily occur during each patient visit. Patients that have to drive long distances to see their regular doctor or specialist can really benefit from not having to make as huge an effort just to see the doctor. And not going to see the doctor means you don’t have to be around sick people.
For the doctor it’s not as easy as you might think. The preparation for the E-appointment requires planning in order to have the proper patient documentation and protocols in place. Then there’s the coordination of the timing of the appointment. Just like with any doctor-patient interaction the actual length of a visit (in-person or virtual) varies. Doctors likely schedule E-appointments in sequence (since moving back and forth between in-person and virtual visits does not make sense) but surely some take longer than others. This means a patient that has a 1:30 P.M. telemedicine appointment for Wednesday will have to wait if the doctor is seeing a previous patient. For now, the patient is likely called by the doctor’s office to let them know to log-in for the telemedicine appointment. I don’t know if as yet there are virtual waiting rooms (that I imagine ultimately won’t be advertising free), but I would not be at all surprised.
After the E-appointment the information obtained during the visit must be cataloged which takes more time. I am told that telemedicine doctor-patient appointments all in all can take TWICE as long as a conventional in-office visit. Then for doctors there’s the issue of getting paid. The rates paid to doctors for telemedicine visits can be appallingly low. I’ve heard doctors can be paid as low as $12 for a telemedicine appointment. That’s going to have to change in order to increase the speed of telemedicine adoption by doctors.
But it should not be forgotten how much telemedicine has acted as an asset during this time of Coronavirus. The world has never seen a pandemic like this nor has the world had a useful way to have doctors and patients interact without being in the same physical space.
Who will benefit from telemedicine? Mostly because they will live much longer, Millennials and Gen Z’ers will leverage telemedicine more than elder Gen X and Baby Boomers. And their children will wonder why their grandparents went to see the doctor as often as they did. We can only hope that things like the use of telemedicine can help make things better for people.
Out of this tragedy many behaviors have been changed and changed forever. The future of working in an office with other people is going to be different now that remote work has been given a true test drive. With people being apart for so long, the value of family, friends, and co-workers being together in person is being assessed and reassessed. But that’s a story for another day.