In past posts, we've written about patients having assistance from and access to all kinds of people in the healthcare system, including nurses, pharmacists and other patients. Now, as reported in the Wall Street Journal Health Blog on Thursday, the Rubicon has been crossed. Patients are now able to have an immediate consultation with a physician online.
According to the Journal, A patient who wants an online doctor consult can log on and get
something approaching a complete doctor visit, often without waiting.
The doc can review the patient’s record, make a diagnosis, write a
prescription and make a referral, all online. Patients without a webcam
can talk to the doctor on the phone.
Now, there are obvious limitations to this. An online physician cannot do an examination, really diagnose anything new, or act on anything besides what the patient tells him. That being said, there are an awful lot of times when a patient just wants a quick answer, or a suggestion, or a referral. This system will do that.
It's significant that the system will not necessarily connect patients with their own physicians. Instead, patients are connected with any of a pool of physicians who happen to be online at the time they place their call. The drawback, of course, is that the physician to whom they will speak is a complete stranger, and knows nothing at all about their individual condition. The benefit is that a new perspective may unearth something the primary care physician has missed. And, in any event, the online physician's notes on their consultation with the patient are forwarded to the primary care physician, so the loop is always closed.
One of the many reasons physicians, particularly primary-care doctors, are increasingly dissatisfied with their profession is the incredible infrastructure required to practice medicine. In today's system, you need a pretty significant staff to handle paperwork, to process patients, to do all the preliminary stuff so you spend the well-known and precious few minutes with every patient.
In order to avail themselves of this, your patients need to schedule an appointment, get themselves to your office, wait (and wait and wait and wait), get gone over once in an examining room by a nurse or another member of your staff, and then finally, having run this gauntlet, they get to talk to you. Your staff has to spend legendary amounts of time handling paperwork and dealing with insurance companies in order for the physician (and them) to get paid for all this.
It's more than a little like iTunes. Remember the old days? You had to get in your car, drive to the store, find the record you want, buy it, get into your car and drive home, and then listen to it. Very convenient for the retailer, but a real pain in the neck for consumers.
Online consultations with physicians promises the same kind of benefits. More than anything, it's a great way for patients to keep engaged with their treatment. This is particularly important when dealing with a chronic disease like MS or lupus, where it's absolutely vital that the patient continually manage a condition.
It's another fascinating example of technology being used to enhance, improve and support the engagement of patients and their conditions.