opinion

The doctor will see you now — online

Connected coverage — selected articles on trends, challenges and controversies in the changing world of medicine.

Posted May 6, 2013

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The physician-patient relationship has changed through the years, and one major shift has been the treatment of patients by Internet or remote hookup. Such methods of practice have been criticized by some health professionals because of a lack of face-to-face interaction with a physician, but they also have been championed by others for improving access to care.

American Medical News has reported how telemedicine has expanded as more clinicians — including nonphysicians — diagnose and treat illnesses over the Internet. At the same time, hospitals and clinics are integrating systems that allow physicians to reach rural areas through interactive video screens. Both approaches have been viewed as helping to deal with a shortage of doctors in some parts of the nation.

Unseen and online: What are the limits for patient care?

Health companies increasingly are more willing to deliver care over the Internet as a way to trim costs and expand access to care. An article in the February issue of Health Affairs described how Virtuwell, a company started by HealthPartners, has reduced costs by using nurse practitioners to make clinical decisions. The rules for online care vary by state, but the Federation of State Medical Boards says doctors who participate in telemedicine should have access to patients’ evaluations.

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Reaching the remote: Telemedicine gains ground

Teleconferencing technology lets doctors communicate with patients in nursing homes and other facilities when physicians can’t be there in person. By linking to patients via remote-controlled robots and other video systems, doctors also can reach medically underserved areas. From miles away, patients in rural sections of the country can be connected to specialists at urban medical centers.

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Virtual medicine: Companies using webcams for real-time patient encounters

Virtual visits have gone beyond hospitals. For example, a company named American Well started offering real-time web-cam visits with physicians. Supporters of such efforts say telemedicine likely won’t replace traditional office visits, but they will help lighten the load of overcrowded emergency departments and busy doctors.

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