This week, The Wall Street Journal published an article examining the quality of online telemedicine companies, concluding that many of these services do not closely adhere to accepted treatment guidelines and may often use inaccurate methods of assessment.
In particular, the article cites a JAMA study of 16 web-based medical services, which found that dermatology consultations repeatedly made faulty misdiagnoses and care decisions.
When posing as patients seeking skin care advice, the JAMA researchers reported that several doctors made the following errors:
- Misdiagnosed patients with syphilis, herpes and skin cancer;
- Prescribed medications without asking key questions about patients’ medical histories or warning of adverse effects;
- Linked users with doctors located overseas who aren’t licensed to practice where the patients were located, as required by state law.
Perhaps the most important takeaway from the WSJ article was this quote:
“The usual give-and-take that occurs between a physician and a patient wasn’t happening during these electronic consultations. The clinicians weren’t asking basic follow-up questions.”
The WSJ article is already sparking controversy among industry experts over the veracity of its findings, but regardless, the piece is a great reminder that simply offering telehealth as an extension of the care continuum is not sufficient to improving care.
Instead, we should foster a commitment to quality and standards that follow actionable care plans and emulate an in-person exam. The core idea of telehealth– extending the clinical encounter outside of the doctor’s office– is based around the notion that the patient is receiving the same excellent level of care as a face-to-face visit with an expert medical professional.
With our own Wellbox Call Center, each telehealth call is carefully structured to fit the health needs of our individual patients based on their symptoms and unique conditions. Using proven techniques– such as motivational interviewing– we are able to engage patients in valuable discussions that answer key questions, provide caregiver insight, and ultimately determine how we can use available resources to keep them healthy and happy in their homes.
As more patients gravitate towards telemedicine consultations to save costs and become involved in their care, we as an industry must do our best to avoid outcomes like those demonstrated in the JAMA article. By ensuring that quality is of paramount importance in every clinical encounter, we can then position telemedicine and telehealth as leading and effective healthcare interventions, to the benefit of both patients and providers everywhere.