Telemedicine: is virtual healthcare the way forward?

23 August 2020

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Telehealth services and telemedicine are hot topics at the moment – but would you be okay with getting your healthcare over the internet? According to our latest poll, 95% of you would…

We asked, “Will telehealth/virtual healthcare play a major role in the future of healthcare?” 52% of you responded with a resounding “Yes, it is the way forward” – and only 5% with a flat “No, face to face is best.” 43% preferred a blended approach with a bit of both.

However, that vote of confidence is likely to be a bit skewed. For one thing, an online poll can’t capture the views of people who aren’t online – a group that includes some of the most vulnerable patients.

Telemedicine has unexpected upsides and downsides for both patients and providers. Read on to discover what they are and whether online healthcare is for you...

What’s good about telemedicine?

1. You don’t have to leave home

Starting with the obvious: no travel, no lost work time, no childcare worries. If you’re really feeling rough, you don’t even need to leave your sickbed.

2. You could save money

When you get your healthcare online, savings on things like fuel, parking, childcare, and missed work hours can add up. Some telehealth providers even ship you your prescription for no extra cost.

3. You get seen faster

Places like the emergency room and walk-in centres are supposedly the fastest way to get care, but with overstretched staff, overstuffed waiting rooms, and the worst cases quite rightly getting seen first, if you’re not bleeding to death you might be sitting there a while.

Telemedicine gives you near-instant access to a doctor – and not just any doctor, but one who specialises in your condition. That means your appointment could take minutes as opposed to hours. And if you compare it to the time it takes to book a non-urgent GP appointment, it could take minutes as opposed to weeks.

4. There’s zero infection risk

If you think you might be infectious, whether it’s a cold or COVID, staying home makes sense. And if you just need to see someone about your sprained toe, you don’t want to sit in a waiting room inhaling everyone else’s bugs.

5. It’s a godsend if you live in the country

Being able to see every star in the Milky Way at night and wake up to the dawn chorus is great, but if you wake up feeling horrible and it’s an hour’s drive to the nearest small town (or worse, you have to wait for the single daily bus to the nearest small town), you’ll be grateful for telehealth.

6. You get prescriptions delivered

A trip to the doctor is usually followed by a trip to the pharmacy, which is at best a nuisance and at worst (depending on what ails you) an embarrassment. Telehealth providers know this and will usually mail you your prescription.

What’s bad about telemedicine?

1. Not everyone is online

The groups most likely to struggle with painful and distressing health conditions include the very old, the very poor, and the homeless – many of whom don’t have a computer or smartphone, or even the skills to use one. So, telemedicine runs the risk of excluding many of the people who most need healthcare.

2. Not everything can be handled online

Severe, acute, and life-threatening conditions are best dealt with in person. Telemedicine is more appropriate for milder and less urgent issues.

3. It’s less personal

For some people, receiving care through a computer screen could feel cold, clinical, and isolating. But for others, it’s a good thing. Going to the doctor can be uncomfortably personal, after all.

With the current pandemic causing problems across the globe, telemedicine has increasingly been looked at as a viable choice for those who cannot get to their GP or as a solution for more vulnerable patients who cannot risk infection. As its popularity increases it's becoming more evident that remote care will certainly be a part of the “new normal” in the post-covid world.

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