The internet has been integrated into the healthcare industry in a number of ways. Physicians around the world can keep in contact with each other via email and consult on cases, and they can access information from any database. However, many physicians and specialties have been consulting in a different manner: via Skype and other instant video messaging programs. There are many different medical professionals who do this type of distance consulting – and it is paying off.
Benefits to Distance Consultations
The most obvious benefit to using video software to consult is that questions can be asked and answered in real time. There is no delay as there would be with email. While this could be done with a phone call, the video part of the consultation is also very useful. Consultants can see what is going on and, in many cases, physicians can upload and instantly share test results, x-rays, and other images and information. It is almost like having another physician in the room. In fact, in a few rare cases, consultants have actually performed surgery long distance using very specialized surgical equipment. While this is not widely done yet, the fact that it can be done is incredible.
Downsides to Online Consultations
On the downside, while it is similar to having a second physician in the room, it is not quite the same. Some things can only be done in person. A consultant could not touch a patient to feel how the muscles, bones, or other parts of the body have swelled or shifted. While video resolution may be incredibly detailed, it is also not quite the same as seeing something in person. A physician consulting via camera has limited sight and hearing and has no ability to feel or smell the patient, two senses which can be helpful in diagnosing certain diseases and illnesses.
Another issue is privacy. It is possible these video sessions can be recorded or even hacked. While it may seem strange that someone would want to hack into a surgical consultation, no one ever really knows what computer hackers are going to do next. Sessions may also be recorded for viewing later, but a patient may never know who exactly sees the recordings. In fact, they may not be kept on any sort of secure server at all, so anyone with access could view the consultation.
Long Distance Therapy
This last issue is a particular concern when therapists use long distance technology to work with patients. Web-based therapy is becoming fairly popular because it means patients do not need to go to their therapist’s office just to talk. Instead, they talk from home, where they may be much more comfortable. Therapists who do only distance therapy may also charge less because they do not have to maintain an office building and staff. Patients don’t have to be afraid of being seen going into a therapist’s office, and they can often get therapy outside of standard office hours. However, the fact that these video conferences can be hacked and recorded is concerning. The American Psychological Association has made it a requirement for therapists to have agreements in place with video conference providers stating the security they will use and that the data will be kept private. However, a number of major video messaging companies, including Skype, have yet to offer these agreements to therapists or other healthcare professionals.