Video conferencing can help reverse an imbalance in the doctor-patient relationship.
It is a situation we’ve long accepted out of necessity, but technology has now brought us to a point where we can ask–why must the sick patient travel to see the healthy doctor?
Obviously, when there are more patients than there are doctors, and these patients are scattered around town, it’s far more efficient to have the many meet the few at a central location, otherwise, your physician would lose hours a day in between house calls.
Video conferencing, however, makes travel instantaneous. With a webcam and a solid internet connection, both the doctor and the patient can stay right where they are and meet by telemedicine. It’s efficient, and–provided the standard of care is the same–it saves the patient from the added pain of having to negotiate traffic, public transport, or the rigors of a long physical journey.
In Ohio, for instance, telemedicine cancer care is aiding the treatment of breast cancer patients by halving the number of medical appointments they must attend.
Combining Medical Visits with Telemedicine
When the Geneva Medical Center in Ohio built its new Seidman Cancer Center, it set aside two rooms for telehealth technology. The rooms will feature a secure video call system that will link its patients with remote oncologists at other sites. The service means cancer sufferers visiting the hospital for chemotherapy treatment will be able to conduct follow-up visits with doctors located off-site at the same time, rather than come in for a second visit.
The clarity and reliability of video conferencing technology is at a point now where doctors can make a conduct a complete check-up online as quickly as they can in-room. This includes reviewing a patient’s vital signs, lab results, and medical imaging, as well as having a general discussion about how a patient feels and what they can expect next on their road to recovery.
Given that the “road to recovery” from breast cancer treatment can take more than five years in some cases, reducing the number of regular medical appointments a patient has to travel for in-person could save days of time–and could help a patient’s life feel more ‘normal.’
What’s the State of Telemedicine Cancer Care?
Video conferencing has not advanced to the stage where it can be used to conduct crucial early detection examinations and scans for breast cancer, but it could be used in combination with mobile mammography units to increase the number of women who receive a breast check. Mobile services are in operation across the U.S. in both urban and rural areas, and in some cases are free.
After a woman has undergone a screening, their follow-up diagnosis could be taken over a video call, making the whole process as easy as possible. Along with an address and phone number, the patient could hand over their Skype address and get their results face-to-face online without having to make a trip to a primary care physician or hospital to receive potentially bad news from a disembodied voice on the phone.
As in the Ohio example, the video calling technology here is more comfort than cure, but it can create a network of linked health services that makes getting that cure easier.
A Video Calling Healthcare Network
Video conferencing links are being employed, or at least trialed, at just about every step in the U.S. healthcare system. First responders are making video calls within ambulances, neonatal wards are using webcams to enable virtual baby visits, primary care physicians can be consulted online using virtual doctor apps, and post-surgery house calls are being improved.
The new telehealth rooms being built in Ohio offer a way to link all these now-digital services. Each room is staffed by a single general practice nurse who is able to perform the basic physical tasks a remote doctor can’t. Among breast cancer patients, that service is used to remove the need for a second appointment for patients already on-site to receive therapy. If you equipped community medical centers with the same webcam technology and the same nurses, they could be one-stop shops for all kinds of medical conditions.
A patient’s referral to a specialist from the in-house PCP could be met that same day by moving the appointment online. It doesn’t matter what condition they need attention for, every expert is potentially only a nurse-assisted video call away. Similar networks already exist between doctors–all that’s left to do is invite the patient on the virtual ride.
If we can make telehealth the norm, maybe patients made weak and uncomfortable by cancer and cancer treatments wouldn’t have to move heaven and earth to visit their healthy doctor.