Virtual doctor appointments became mainstream during the pandemic, and I feel the trend will continue.
Telemedicine, or virtual doctor's visits, was already on its way to becoming an important part of the healthcare system. But the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for virtual doctor's visits, making telemedicine completely mainstream. In fact, one study, published in Sept. 2020 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found that in New York, telemedicine visits increased 8,729% during the height of the pandemic compared to the previous year.
But now that more people are getting vaccinated, will telemedicine stay as popular? I think it will.
The same study reviewed more than 38,000 patient satisfaction surveys and concluded that patients not only like virtual doctor's visits but that it is "not a barrier toward a paradigm shift away from traditional in-person clinic visits."
That's good news for physicians, who, like myself, have been embracing the opportunity to avoid bringing patients back into our offices for unnecessary encounters, or, as they say, "this could have been an email."
Making Doctors More Accessible
Sure, I like to meet new patients in person to get to know them and, of course, perform necessary exams. But many consultations, especially for existing patients, do not require a trip back to the office — such as reviewing lab work or simply following up on a course of care. Plus, for patients who have a hard time moving around or traveling due to age, infirmity, or distance, telemedicine helps make doctors more accessible to all of their patients.
Improving the Level of Care
The ability to practice medicine remotely has also improved tenfold now that many homes in the U.S. are connected to the internet, because being able to monitor patients remotely offers an extra level of protection. This way, doctors can get continuous, real-time data on patients, which, in turn, helps us provide timely feedback and help avert a crisis or trip to the ER.
For example, if a heart patient has to closely monitor health factors like weight fluctuations and swelling, they can utilize a simple bodyweight scale, a blood pressure cuff, and a heart rate monitor, and suddenly, their home becomes a mobile health-monitoring unit. They can then relay this data to their physician virtually, thus saving themselves a trip to the doctor.
Opening the Door for Mental Health Care
Another benefit of telemedicine is the increased availability of mental health care services. As we know, mental health experts are not distributed equally across our country. Telemedicine makes talk therapy more accessible, affordable, and logistically feasible for all Americans, especially those who live in rural parts of our country, like so many veterans with PTSD.
While I don't believe telemedicine will completely replace visiting your doctor in person (sorry!), I do believe doctors should embrace new technology when it's available, and telemedicine is definitely here to stay.
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