Friday, October 08, 2010

Is a real life doctor better than an online doctor ?

Traditionally, medical care was always provided face to face. If you had a medical problem, you went and saw your doctor for a consultation. He would take a history; examine you; and then decide on what treatment you needed.

This was and is still a good model, because it allows doctors to provide the "human touch" , which is often a key ingredient in providing good medical care. However, as time evolved, doctors realised that not all their patients needed to come and see them for each and every problem.

Many problems are self-limited and resolve on their own, so that they can be effectively managed by reassuring the patient; while others simply need a renewal of a prescription ( for example, for managing a stable patient with a chronic illness). This is why "telephone medicine" is an integral part of medical care today.

As technology has evolved, the internet provides a more efficient way of communicating with a doctor than the telephone, so that online consultations are now standard in many fields.

While there is no doubt that seeing a doctor is very important in a medical emergency; or when the diagnosis is unclear, it's also true that not all medical problems require you to visit your doctor.

There are many downsides to a doctor visit. Doctors are busy - and it can take 2-6 weeks to get an appointment to see a leading physician. Also, a visit to the clinic can be quite disruptive , and may need you take a day off because travelling to the clinic can be quite a time consuming chore. A doctor's clinic can be quite chaotic - and long wait times ( surrounded by sick patients) is hardly conducive to healing.

Also, many times patients know what their diagnosis is. They just need a second opinion; or need to find out the cost of a particular treatment option - information which they should be able to get without having to go through the inconvenience and expense of actually going to the doctor.

Online consultations offer a lot of benefits - and in fact, the quality of care can actually be better in some cases ! An online consultation allows you to get an opinion from a world-renowned expert, without having to travel half way across the world to meet him ! Because the doctor's opinion is based on a review of your medical records, you have to make sure all your tests and treatments are well documented - helping you to become better organised, and thus become a better-informed patient. Also, you do not need to waste time waiting for an open consultation slot , because the doctor's clinic timings are no longer a bottleneck, as a result of which the turnaround time can be much quicker.

When you email your questions, do not need to worry about the fact that the doctor is in a hurry and another 20 restive patients waiting in line to see him. It's possible to ask well-crafted questions to clarify your doubts , so that you have a clearer picture of your options. Often email consultations are more productive because you are not stressed out . When sitting in front of the doctor, many patients forget half their questions - and after the visit, many cannot remember half of what the doctor told them. This can cause of a lot of unhappiness for both doctors and patients. An emailed opinion is in black and while - and you can verify this advise with other specialists and your family doctor ; and also share it with your loved ones, to confirm that you are on the right track ! Finally, an online consultation can ensure you get a more objective honest opinion ! Since the doctor does not know you, he has no hidden agenda, and will not want to push you into doing surgery, for example !

Can online consultations have a downside ? Yes, of course ! There is no personal rapport; and the online " expert " may not be trustworthy or reliable. This is why you need to use this option intelligently ! Also, doctors may not be willing to offer this option, because they are not sure how to bill for their time ( though I am sure this will change, as patients are quite willing to pay for phone consultations and online consultations as well !)

In my opinion, it's very good for both doctors and patients that additional options are now available, thanks to the internet . This option is especially useful for getting a second opinion and we do this routinely at !

It saves me a lot of time and energy; and keeps my patients happy, because they can tap into my expert knowledgebase, without having to come and see me !

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