Arguably, video conferencing creates better doctors.
The technology may generate more attention for the smartphone apps and online portals that place patients in virtual consulting rooms, but it’s also encouraging communication between doctors by forging real time, face-to-face links between medical professionals.
Video conferencing has become a form of virtual mentoring, one that allows generalists to call on the expertise of specialists, and it can help keep working doctors in touch with the latest developments in their field. It is being used or being implemented by the majority of U.S. doctors and can radically improve the quality and availability of healthcare services offered in remote and rural areas.
In fact, video consultations between doctors are having a direct, positive impact on the outcomes of patients. That’s a lot of accolades for a network of webcams and smartphones to claim, but it is backed by scientific research.
Communication Between Doctors Improves Survival Rates
Recent research published in the scientific journal Hepatology found that patients being treated for liver disease had a higher chance of survival if their primary care doctor consulted with specialists by video conference.
That’s a very specific set of circumstances, but the results sound more and more like common sense the more you ponder them. And the “higher chance” the researchers arrived at was no small difference–they found patients had a 54% better chance at recovery when their doctor maintained a video connection with their peers.
Treatment for liver disease requires regular appointments between the patient and their primary care professional to maintain and implement the advice of a specialist. The researchers found that video conferencing helped to fill in the knowledge gaps that primary care doctors had about the disease and course of treatment and kept both them and the patient in better contact with the specialist.
It’s that simple. Better informed doctors are better doctors.
The research published in Hepatology relied on data collected from a program developed by the University of New Mexico called Extension of Community Healthcare Outcome, or ECHO. At VC Daily we’ve written about this project on a couple of occasions because it stands as a great example of how video conferencing can be used to improve healthcare options in rural and remote areas. The program gathers expert medical minds within a central online hub where their specialized services and advice can be accessed by primary care physicians working within small populations. It is dynamic enough to offer both regular one-on-one video chats on specific cases and town hall-style group meetings that provide updates on current practices and research.
The program recently won Senate support to expand its network of services. That’s an outcome that falls in line with a current trend toward the adoption of video conferencing in the medical profession. It has been estimated that 90% of doctors and healthcare organizations are developing or planning to implement telemedicine services. Furthermore, about 15 million Americans receive some form of remote care annually, and more than $1 billion is invested in the field every year.
And a lot of that money is being used at the local level.
Video Consultations in General Practice
General practice doctors are one of the three branches of healthcare using telemedicine the most, behind only psychiatry and pediatrics. Given that the country is currently suffering from a well-established shortage in the area of general or family medicine they’re also the group that stands to benefit most from the growth of video conferencing in healthcare.
In short, they need help. With technology no more advanced than that which powers a Skype call between friends, they can get that help. The video link itself is merely a conduit for the real work that occurs when medical professionals are able to speak with each other face-to-face. Video conferencing allows that meeting to occur across any distance, without the expense and interruption of travel. In practical terms, it means a primary care doctor can seek out a second opinion as soon as a consultation ends, or even while it’s in session–a bonus which allows the patient to be directly involved in the conversation.
In our current, siloed world of healthcare, video conferencing creates better doctors by allowing connections that open up new avenues for learning and collaborating.